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The White House
December 11, 2012 permalink
For a century delinquent children in Florida were sent to the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys. In recent decades survivors have been telling stories of atrocious beatings and deaths at the school. Punishments were administered to boys in a building known as "The White House". Last year the state closed the school with the assertion that 31 persons were buried at the site, all accounted for, 29 children and two adults. Now archaeological research by the University of South Florida has ascertained that the site has fifty buried bodies. There are hints of more in other parts of the site.
This gruesome tale will be repeated in some form by the next generation as they unearth the atrocity of the children dying now in the custody of child protection agencies. In Ontario alone a hundred children a year die in the care of children's aid societies with barely a trace of public accountability.
USF researchers find 19 more graves at Dozier School for Boys
Researchers from the University of South Florida say there are at least 50 graves on the grounds of a former Panhandle reform school – higher than a state estimate of 31 graves – and that a second cemetery is likely to exist.
Anthropologists and archaeologists from USF have spent months conducting field work, scientific analysis and ethnographic research at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, which has been the subject of investigations into abuse allegations and suspicious deaths. The school, which opened in 1900, was closed last year.
A USF report contradicts a previous state report that said the identities of all 31 people buried at the school cemetery were confirmed.
"We've always known the day would come when this type of information would come out," said Bryant E. Middleton, who was sent to Dozier in 1959. "And to me, it's going to provide some closure, it's going to provide some emotional relief, and a lot of satisfaction knowing there is a good chance now that state employees who perpetrated these crimes against these children may be held accountable."
Jerry Cooper, sent to the reform school in 1961, also praised the USF investigation. "We have been on the right purpose here all along, and that's why we're not going to stop," Cooper said. "We want to know what happened to these kids."
Children were originally committed to the school for serious criminal offenses, but state law was later amended to include those convicted of minor incidents such as truancy.
Middleton and Cooper are among the so-called "White House Boys," a group of men who claim they were lashed unmercifully with a leather strap in a cottage known on the campus as the "White House" in the 1950s and '60s. Cooper said he barely survived a 135-lash beating in the White House.
Inmates also told of rape, isolation, hog-tying and other atrocities. Some said they saw boys led away, never to return. And they remembered a graveyard, eventually grown-over and containing 31 unmarked crosses made of pipe.
Several White House Boys and the members of a family attempting to find out what happened to their son attended a news conference announcing the results of the investigation today at USF.
"A major part of what anthropologists do is to give voice to people who are voiceless," said Christian Wells, an associate professor at USF who participated in the investigation. "Certainly in this case, these boys and many of these families today don't have the social or political influence to have that voice."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation into the Dozier school in 2009 after the White House Boys, many now in their 60s, and others told their stories to newspapers. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated, concluding that there was no foul play and that the 31 graves contained the bodies of 29 boys and two adults who were accounted for.
But Erin Kimmerle, a USF assistant professor of anthropology who has worked around the world examining grave sites, applied for and was granted an archeological permit from the state Division of Historical Resources. She also received permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to access the historic land. Historic cemeteries are considered valuable cultural resources and Florida statutes provide protection for them and mandate rights of families to have access.
Kimmerle's group used ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for "anomalies" in the soil at what is known as the Boot Hill cemetery on the school site. If an anomaly was recognized, researchers would dig a surface trench to confirm that different types of soils were mixed in the trench, indicating the ground had been disturbed in a manner similar to the digging of a grave.
Her group did not exhume any bodies or remove body parts, in keeping with the scope of the USF permit.
Antoinette Jackson, a USF associate professor of anthropology who is also participating in the investigation, said the history of "wholesale segregation" in the South and at the school suggest that there is likely another burial area on the grounds.
"I'm very excited about the next step in this process," Jackson said. "That's a big question for me. I have very limited knowledge of any cemetery being integrated in that time period because segregation was so complete."
The USF group's 118-page report recommends additional ground-penetrating radar work in the area; exhumation and autopsies to determine cause of death and identification; additional research of historical documents; and further interviews with family, employees and others with knowledge of the school.
That could lead to the discovery of more graves on the Dozier school property. But further investigation would require the intervention of an authority such as the state attorney's office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Governor's office, or a private lawsuit seeking exhumation of graves.
Kimmerle said her group will have "continued discussions" with those authorities. She said the USF group "would be happy to (continue the work) if they ask us."
Source: Tampa Tribune
Addendum: Excavation has unearthed 55 bodies. Corpses were buried in the same location as household trash.
USF researchers unearthed 55 bodies from Dozier, more than state claimed
TAMPA — The men who ran the Florida School for Boys buried George Owen Smith quickly, without the dignity of a permanent headstone, before his family could drive up from Auburndale. Their official story was that the spry 14-year-old had crawled under a house nearby and died. His sister Ovell, 12 at the time, never believed it.
"None of that rang true," said Ovell Krell.
Seventy-three years later, she still wants to know what happened, and where he's buried.
Researchers from the University of South Florida are trying to help. They announced Tuesday they have exhumed the remains of 55 boys who died at the notorious state-run reform school in the Panhandle town of Marianna.
That's 24 more than the 31 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found during a cursory investigation in 2009 on orders from then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The FDLE relied on incomplete school records and did not use ground-penetrating radar to map the cemetery.
The number even exceeds USF's earlier estimate of roughly 50, which was based on ground-penetrating radar.
Among the unidentified remains — many of which appear to have been buried unceremoniously, somewhat haphazardly and at varying depths — anthropologists found thousands of artifacts they hope to date and compare to school records to help determine the identities of the boys buried. They found belt buckles, zippers, coffin hardware, buttons, bottles of embalming fluid and a marble in a boy's pocket. They found more modern debris, signs that part of the cemetery had been used as a dump. They also found remains under a road, under a tree and spread throughout surrounding forest. Only 13 were found in the area marked as a cemetery with pipe crosses, which is on a forgotten corner of campus.
The team, led by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who has called the project a "humanitarian effort," began work in early 2012. The tedious excavation didn't begin until August, after the university cleared political hurdles and won approval from Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. "This has always been about fulfilling a fundamental human right," Kimmerle said.
They hope DNA from the families of those known to have died at the school will also shed light on the identities of the remains. USF and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office have collected DNA from about a dozen families and are trying to track down more relatives of the dead.
The anthropologists will return to campus soon to continue to search for a purported second cemetery.
The state closed the facility in June 2011 after a century-long cycle of scandal and short-lived reform. The school, 60 miles west of Tallahassee, was founded in 1900 and was once the largest of its kind in the nation. It has been known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys, the Florida School for Boys and the Dozier School for Boys. Over the years, kids were locked in irons, beaten with a leather strap in a building called the White House, locked in isolation for as long as three weeks and hog-tied.
In October 2008, five former wards went public with stories of extreme physical and sexual abuse at the hands of guards. They were featured in a Tampa Bay Times series called For Their Own Good. More than 500 men have come forward with similar stories of being abused by staff at the school, according to a lawyer with Masterson & Hoag, the St. Petersburg firm representing the men.
Troy Tidwell, one of the few living guards accused of abuse, refused to talk to the Times but admitted in a deposition to spanking boys. He normally gave them 8 or 10 licks with a leather strap, he said.
Hundreds of men say that's a lie.
"They made me sit on a boy to hold him down because he couldn't take it," said Arthur Huntley, 68, still haunted by the memory. He and his brothers spent years at Dozier in the 1950s for skipping school. He wasn't surprised that researchers found far more graves than school records reflect. "We were always suspicious, because guys would run away and never be seen again," he said. "What are they trying to hide?"
Some Jackson County residents have fought the effort at every turn. When FDLE released its report in 2009, which concluded there were 31 graves, local historian and blogger Dale Cox touted his own corresponding research and said the media should apologize. "They printed wild accusations of murders and secret graves with no supporting evidence," he said, according to a Jackson County Times article headline "FDLE Confirms: No 'Mystery Graves' at Dozier." "Now they should make up for it."
Cox has since revised his estimate to 55.
"As far as Marianna and Jackson County are concerned, our community has been vindicated," he wrote Tuesday in a blog post headlined "USF confirms: No Mass Grave at Dozier School."
"The media will never say that and USF will never say that, but we know it and we can hold our heads a bit higher today."
Ovell Krell just wants her brother back. "It would be the answer to many a years of prayer," she said.
"I want to get him out of there and put him between my mother and daddy in Auburndale."
Source: Tampa Bay Times