Just off the heels of Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet receiving their final report on the Dozier School for Boys, another Florida Governor is throwing his weight behind reburial efforts in the form of two bills that passed Tuesday.
Just last week, Governor Scott and the Florida Cabinet got a final update on the exhumations of the Dozier grounds.
55 remains of boys believed to have died and were buried there due to alleged abuse at the former Marianna reform school had been found years ago. University of South Florida researchers say 7 of the remains have been positively IDed, and there could be more on the way.
But, there are questions surrounding what to do with the unclaimed remains as well as the historical records and artifacts associated with the Panhandle property.
As to where to lay the unclaimed remains, some have said they should be reburied on the Dozier grounds, but Bill Price falls in the other camp.
He’s the Vice President of the White House Boys organization. They’re a group of men—former boys of the North Florida reform school—who say they were abused in a white building known as the White House.
“These kids were not taken care of in life, and we’re afraid they’re not going to be taken care of in death, and that’s why we would like to have them interred somewhere other than Jackson County,” said Price, during last week's Cabinet meeting. “We would like to have proper burials for it, and set aside some sort of monument at the school for the White House.”
Others, like Dale Landry with the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP, had asked the Cabinet to support legislative efforts to give compensation to those who wanted to rebury their loved ones
“I would just ask you all to reach out and support the legislators that are trying to move to get the funds to pay because as you are aware, on several of the remains that have come forward that they have identified, they have had to go out to raise money in the public to ask people to donate, when that’s the state’s responsibility to reinter those bodies,” said Landry.
The Cabinet appeared receptive, and this week, lawmakers took the first steps in passing two bills in the House and Senate to do just that.
Former Florida Governor Bob Martinez is among those who supports the legislation. When he was younger, he says he remembers how scary the thought of being sent to Dozier was for him.
“I’m native to Tampa, and I can recall as a youngster, if you misbehaved or you disobeyed, you would often hear, ‘you’re going to end up in Marianna,’ and you sort of grew up thinking that that must be one sort of a hellhole. These youngsters have been in a Potter’s field, basically all this time and without markers and without identification, and I believe they deserve every opportunity—those that have families that will claim the remains once identified—to be reinterred in a proper place,” he said.
Over the past couple of years, the Republican has also been advocating on behalf of the White House boys.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to those who are still living,” Martinez added. “Some have told me their stories of abuse, some sexual abuse. So, it was a horrible experience finally coming to an end. Senator Joyner’s bill…think it’s a right step in terms of Florida putting an end to a very dark period that existed from the early 1900s.”
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) is carrying a bill to make sure there is a memorial for the unclaimed remains through a task force created by Department of State.
“We want to create this task force so they can make recommendations regarding the creation and maintenance of a memorial and the location of where it should be. In addition, the bill would allow funds for the reinternment of the bodies of those persons whose ID has been identified and those yet to be identified,” said Joyner.
Through her bill, the state must pay $7,500 each for the reburial or reimburse the families who want to bury their loved ones themselves.
Joyner says like Martinez, she’d heard some terrible stories as well.
She recalls as a young woman, she heard about Dozier from some of her classmates in high school who went there. As a teacher, she later taught some of the former Dozier kids.
“And, that one year I taught 1964-65, United States History at Booker Washington Jr. High school in Tampa, Florida, I had one class, where the 3rd period class had 43 students and 13 of those students had been to Marianna. So, they personally related to me what happened to them there,” added Joyner.
Her Senate measure got full support during its first hearing Tuesday. The House measure by Tampa Democratic Representative Ed Narain unanimously passed its first committee as well.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.