Several more men are telling stories of abuse they say they suffered at the infamous state-run Dozier Reform School in the Panhandle town of Marianna. A group calling themselves the Black Boys at Dozier gathered at the campus Saturday calling for Florida Gov. Rick Scott to allow researchers to exhume bodies in unmarked graves on the property.
The men who shared their stories lived on the part of the campus where researchers are trying to exhume at least 100 bodies in unmarked graves. A road separates the area from the rest of the campus.
Speaking in front of dormitories on the so-called “black side” of the Dozier campus, Florida Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Art Rocker, said, “We’re here to wake up America concerning Dozier."
The school notorious for decades of harsh treatment of boys closed two years ago. Johhny Gaddy was 11 years old in 1957 when he says police picked him up in Dade City and sent him to Dozier. He says guards would send dogs after boys who tried to run away, and he never saw several of them again. What’s more, he was counseled not to talk about what he saw.
“And when I was taking the garbage to the pit, I told the guy, ‘That looks just like a boy’s hand right there.’ He said, ‘Johhny, don’t ever say that again. If you don’t want to be like that, don’t ever say that again.’ So, everything that we seen and heard, we just had to not see it and not hear it," Gaddy says.
School records show admittance dates for several boys but no corresponding release dates. Researchers want to exhume bodies there to find out whether it’s a case of shoddy recordkeeping or something worse.
Paula Johnson, a Syracuse University law professor who heads the Cold Case Justice Initiative, says her team supports University of South Florida anthropologist Erin Kimmerle in her fight to get exhumation permits from the state.
“Even though these harms happened in the '40s and the '50s and into the 1960s, there is never a time limit on demanding justice and on getting justice," she says.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has denied previous requests to exhume the bodies at Dozier. But State Attorney General Pam Bondi says Detzner misunderstood the law and should have granted the permit. Bondi and the rest of the Florida Cabinet, including Gov. Scott, will take up the permitting issue again on Tuesday.
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