dozier school floridaFlorida began digging into its past as anthropologists start unearthing the remains of what is believed to be dozens of children buried on the grounds of a reform school.  The exhumations at Dozier School for Boys, which closed permanently in 2011, are the culmination of years of mystery and controversy surrounding school and what happened there.  Some of those who once went to Dozier as children are now senior citizens and have come forward with stories never told before of abuse including:  beatings, torture, sexual abuse, murders, and disappearances from the 1940s to the 1960s.  On school grounds buried deep in the woods lies a patch of land with 31 white crosses.  Peacefully rusting away, they mark the resting place of unknown children the state of Florida has confirmed are buried there.

According to records about 100 children died there.  Many of the children died in fires, like the one in 1914, or in disease epidemics, like in 1918.  The poorly kept records are believed to not paint the complete picture of what occurred behind the doors of the school.  At least 22 children who died at the school do not appear in the records and no one knows who is buried where in the cemetery.

“They were poor kids and a lot of times, people never came to visit them,” said Elmore Bryant, a lifelong Marianna resident and head of the NAACP in Jackson County, Florida, “Even when they were dismissed, they got home, their family had moved. So, who was going to pay attention if something happened to them…?”

The gravesite known as the “black side” during the segregation era is rumored to have some bodies of African Americas murdered by the Ku Klux Klan buried there.  Many believe they may be in another unmarked cemetery located on the property.  The possibility of unmarked graves on the vast 1,400 acre property is valid.  Last year, a research team from the University of South Florida, on a humanitarian mission to help identify these bodies, used ground-penetrating radar and found 19 additional bodies in the surrounding area near the crosses, but unmarked.  After clearing the area, the team determined that a total of at least 49 graves exist.

“These are children who came here and died, for one reason or another, and have just been lost in the woods,” said Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist leading the USF team and who once worked internationally on the Yugoslavian war crime trials.

She lobbied for an exhumation of the remains because “when there’s no knowledge and no information, then people will speculate and rumors will persist or questions remain.”

Robert Staley spent almost a year at the school in the mid-1960s for allegedly stealing a car.  He says his first day was spent at the “White House”.

“I came out of there in shock, and when they hit you, you went down a foot into the bed, and so hard, I couldn’t believe,” Staley said.

The “White House” is a small white concrete building where many adults say when they were children, they were beaten and abused with such objects as leather straps.  A former administrator, Troy Tidwell, admitted that “spankings” took place, but denied any beatings, abuse, or murders.  Florida first started looking into the perhaps dark past of the school in 2008, after some of the “White House Boys”, who met on the Internet, called then-Governor Charlie Crist.  At Crist’s request, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation and its final report in 2009 accounted for 31 boys buried in the cemetery.  The investigation failed to clear up what happened to those buried there or identify anyone.  FDLE closed the case due to a lack of evidence.  The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice closed the school in 2011, 111 years after it first opened.

Earlier this month, after mounting pressure from the NAACP, forensic anthropologists at UCF, and politicians, such as Sen. Bill Nelson, Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet voted to allow the exhumation.  Jackson County commissioners had lobbied against it.

“There were children that disappeared that really were not accounted for, so I think that a new day has come here,” said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, “What we have now is an opportunity to really get down to the truth…”

  1. Lon Spector says:

    All negative human traits are caused by malfunctining human minds and the causes are
    manifold. Instead of pointing fingers at others, people should look at the three fingers pointing
    back at them!


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