The Black Boys of Dozier
by Nina Berman
Slavery dies hard in the southern USA. New revelations that unidentified bodies of young boys are buried in the cemetery at the now closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida’s Panhandle, has brought forth more disturbing talks of slave labor and violent brutality at the scandal ridden facility.
Thousands of boys, mainly black, passed through Dozier since it opened in 1901 as a reform school for wayward boys. But allegations over the years suggest it functioned more like a slave labor camp, with verified reports of children being hog tied and shackled. The name of the institution changed as each successive administration installed its own brand of punishment and forced labor, finally closing in 2011, not because of allegations, but according to the State, because of budget issues.
Johnny Gaddy, 68, was put there when he was 11 years old. To this day, he doesn’t know why. “I had to figure out a way to get through life, without feeling so abused and I’m trying to figure out what had I done to be here. Who did I make mad to be here?" He describes his first beating at the infamous “White House” where boys would be taken to be whipped.
Now forensic anthropologists are exhuming the campus burial grounds looking to identify missing children, prompting survivors to recall their days there. Most of the stories in news reports have been told by white men. For the first time, black men, organized as the Black Boys at Dozier, a survivors group, returned to the now closed facility, to share their histories.
Their story, a modern day version of slavery and child trafficking, is part of NOOR’s Modern Day Slavery series.