Researchers and students from the University of South Florida will resume their search for unmarked graves at a former state reform school that has a dark history.
Representatives of state government, including the Governor’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, sat down Thursday with members of the NAACP, church groups, Jackson County officials and researchers from the University of South Florida, to discuss the possibility that new graves may have been discovered near the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
Earlier this year, a contractor working on pollution cleanup at the site of the old reform school found 27 “anomalies” in the ground consistent with possible graves.
Anthropologists have already unearthed 55 unmarked graves containing the remains of 51 bodies on the grounds of the former reform school which was the focus of charges over the years of abuse, crowding and neglect, even indentured servitude.
It was announce Thursday that Dr. Erin Kimmerle from USF and her team will continue looking for signs of additional unmarked graves. Kimmerle and her student staff is expected to begin their work in mid-July.
Former state Rep. Gus Barriero, who brought the horrors of Dozier’s history to the attention of the Florida Legislature says the truth needs to be known.
“I heard stories, particularly of black boys, when they would run away they’d pay farmers $50 to plow them into the ground,” Barriero said. “Everything I was told by these men from the beginning turned out to be truths. I believe there are hundreds of young men who are lying out there unidentified and there’s potential to be more.”
The school housed so many children that it became the largest reform school in the country. It remained open until 2011 when allegations about severe abuse and mysterious deaths started to surface.
A group of former residents called the White House Boys, named for the small cinder-block building where they say they were severely beaten for just any inappropriate behavior, came forward to tell their stories of abuse.
While many deaths that occurred at Dozier were often listed as “unknown” or “accident”, it is known that a fire in 1914 killed eight boys who had been locked in a room. Others died in flu epidemics. Some runaways were shot.
The property has since been turned over to Jackson County which plans to convert it to an industrial park and a training center for people with autism. But, with these latest findings, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked state officials to work with the county to determine if more work is needed to determine whether these anomalies are graves.