MARIANA, Fla. (WTXL) – A memorial now stands on the grounds of Dozier Boys School, where former students say they were abused and beaten. Some could not stand the violence.
The school operated for more than 100 years before it was closed in 2011 after more than 500 former students came forward with allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The memorial opening ceremony took place on Friday afternoon. The ceremony was somber but reliable. Many of the survivors, or loved ones of survivors, spoke about the importance of acknowledging what happened here, but also the importance of healing and moving on.
“It’s very offensive to be here,” said Cecil Gardener, one of the survivors, “and I can’t even look at the statue because it brings back so many horrible memories.”
The Dozier School for Boys is no longer a place of horror… but a memorial to victims of physical abuse or worse. The survivors, known as the White House Boys, remember their days growing up in a public correctional school. Charles Fudge is one of the survivors of the school violence.
“The third day I was here, I had the worst beating of my life,” Fudge said.
Fudge says he was sent to school at age 12 because he was skipping school and smoking cigarettes. He stayed there for nine months before going home. He says that the memorial is a reminder of what he experienced as a child.
“It’s mind-blowing… I couldn’t walk past the bed or even get close to it,” Fudge explained.
Cecil Gardener, also a White House boy. He was sent to school when he was 14 years old for 9 months. He says that even if there is confirmation of what happened at the school, he hopes that reparations will be paid soon.
“A lot of our brothers are dead and gone, wouldn’t have seen it, but we’re still hopeful that the state of Florida will do the right thing,” Gardener said.
Dr. Erin Kimerl, a forensic anthropologist and professor at the University of South Florida, conducted a research project based on the documentation of the graves. Her team recovered 55 bodies and was able to identify them and return them to their families. They were also able to collect stories about what happened at the school, adding that it is important for the place to preserve the memory.
This is the kind of story about what happened to children and people before civil rights. I mean, there were kids who were arrested and sent here and their families didn’t know what happened to them. They didn’t have lawyers,” Dr. Kimmerle explained.
Fudge says what happened to Dozier is not something he can get past, but he has been able to move on.
“As you get older, you get wiser and realize the reality of life and its purpose, and yes, it was bad what happened here, but I thank God I survived,” Fudge said.
Dr. Kimerl says he hopes the exhibit about what happened at Dozier will travel around the state. She says it’s still a work in progress. It is also planned to create a museum on the territory of Dozier.