Thursday, January 2, 2014

Photos prove Dozier School Cemetery was never "hidden" or "clandestine"

A series of aerial and ground photographs and maps prove that the Dozier School Cemetery was never "hidden" or "clandestine," despite such claims by numerous media outlets and some - but not all - former students of the now closed reform school.

The most explosive word used by the media, particularly the Tampa Bay Times, to describe the cemetery has been "clandestine." Webster's Dictionary defines the word as meaning "conducted with secrecy; withdrawn from public notice, usually for an evil purpose." Related words, according to Webster's, include shifty, stealthy, sneaky, surreptitious, skulking, underhanded, etc.

The series of photographs and images presented on in this column, however, show that the cemetery was never "clandestine." In fact, they provide strong support for claims by former employees of Dozier and members of the community that the cemetery was maintained over the years it was actually used. The images also offer strong support for the conclusion of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) that there was "no evidence to suggest or support that the School's Cemetery was a 'well kept secret' hidden from the students."

Image One: 1940 Aerial Photo
This aerial photograph (Image One), for example, was taken in 1940. The red rectangle and arrows show the actual cemetery as it existed at that time. Close examination of the image reveals that a faint rectangle can be seen surrounding the cemetery. Those familiar with the use of aerial photographs indicate that such faint lines usually are indicative of fences, a strong indication that the cemetery was surrounded by a fence as early as 1940, seventy-four years ago.

Those with knowledge of interpreting aerial photographs also point out that the large trees seen growing within the rectangular area are consistent with the large oak and other trees growing at the site today and undoubtedly represent those trees as they appeared from above in 1940. The aerial photograph also clearly shows that the cemetery was in no way hidden, but in fact was surrounded by fields and pastures and would have been easily visible from nearby roads and the buildings of the school itself.

Image Two: 1947 Plat Map
The deduction that the rectangular area probably represented a fence around the cemetery is confirmed by this image (Image Two), part of a plan prepared of the school by the State of Florida in 1947.

Again, a red rectangle and arrows have been added to make the cemetery site clearly visible to the reader. Notice that the site is labeled "Cem." with a cross symbol to show that it was a cemetery. Based on the scale of the plat, the cemetery area was a little more than 100 feet long by 50 feet wide.

This seventy-three year old image proves that the cemetery was not "clandestine" or, to use one of the Webster's definitions, "withdrawn from the public, usually for an evil purpose." In fact, it was clearly labeled on the plat which was prepared for the Florida State Planning Board. If the State of Florida was including the cemetery in its planning documents seventy-three years ago, it clearly was not keeping it secret.

The 1947 plat also shows the cemetery as being surrounded by a rectangular fence. The fence was oriented roughly north and south and was about twice as long as it was wide.

Image Three: 1948 Aerial Photograph
The existence of this fence surrounding the cemetery - as well as the burial ground's open nature - is confirmed by this aerial photograph (Image Three).

Taken in 1948 just one year after the preparation of the state plat shown above, it shows the large oak and other trees growing in the cemetery that could still be seen until some of them were removed by the University of South Florida (USF) in 2013.

The photograph also shows dark "lines" surrounding the area. Again, those with experience in researching aerial photographs indicate these lines most likely indicate fence rows or fence lines. Close examination of the photograph reveals almost the complete outline of the fence that surrounded the cemetery.

The photograph also shows that in 1948, the southwest corner of the area still bordered open fields and pastures, although trees had begun to grow in other areas surrounding the cemetery.

By the time the aerial was taken in 1948 (sixty-six years ago), all but nine of the known deaths associated with school had already occurred. Of those remaining nine, two did not die at the school and five are known to be buried elsewhere. Only two additional graves are likely to have been prepared at the cemetery after the date of the photograph, indicating that it was at its largest known size when the image - an official document of the federal government - was taken.

The visibility of the cemetery from the campus and the fact that it was surrounded by a gated fence was confirmed by a former student who was sentenced to the school from 1951-1952. The student also confirmed attending a funeral in the cemetery and remembered that the body (that of Billey Jackson who died in 1952) was interred in a coffin.

Image Four: 1952 USGS Map
The next image (Image Four) is a section of the U.S. Geological Survey quadrangle map for East Cottondale, prepared in 1952. It clearly shows the Dozier School Cemetery as a rectangular area surrounded by open ground.

This was the same year that Billey Jackson, a student who died on October 7, 1952, was buried in the cemetery. School records verify his burial, as do the recollections of students who remember that he was buried in a coffin in the fenced area then known as "Boot Hill" Cemetery.

Jackson was the last individual recorded to have been buried in the cemetery, although it is possible that Alphonse (Alphonso) Glover, who drowned in the school swimming pool by accident while swimming with other students on August 13, 1966, may have been buried there. School records and the coroner's inquest report provide details on his death, but his burial location is not given.

Image Five: 1955 Aerial Photograph
The next image (Image Five), an aerial photograph taken in 1955 clearly shows the rectangular area or fence line of the cemetery.

Also a federal government aerial, the photograph shows that the trees had been maturing over the 15 years that had passed since the first aerial was taken in 1940, but that the fields and pastures surrounding the cemetery were even more open than they had been a few years earlier and that the burial ground would have been clearly visible from nearby roads, fields and the campus itself.

Again, as this photograph demonstrates, there is no indication of any effort to hide the cemetery or use it as a "clandestine" burial ground for evil purposes.  It was an open, visible cemetery surrounded by a fence.

Image Six: 1973 Aerial Photograph
The next aerial photograph (Image Six) was taken in 1973, a significant year because the school had been desegregated 5 years earlier.  Prior to that time the section of the school south of the cemetery had been used as a separate campus for African American students.

1973 was also the year of the last known death associated with Dozier School. Martin E. Williams, a student, died on April 28 of that year while on a canoe outing with other students and staff members. Williams drowned when he accidentally fell overboard after becoming scared of a snake seen in the Chipola River. His death was witnessed by students and employees and he was returned home to Hillsborough County for burial.

The 1973 photograph shows, as can be seen, that the cemetery area was still visible and still surrounded by open fields and pastures in almost every direction.

The series of images presented here show conclusively that the cemetery was never "clandestine" or hidden.  In fact, it was highly visible and throughout its years of use was surrounded by a gated fence.

The 1947 plat - confirmed by the 1948 aerial photograph - shows the fenced cemetery to have enclosed an area roughly 100 feet long and 50 feet wide.

This is consistent with the dimensions of the area from which USF exhumed the graves of former students and employees in 2013. Pieces of the old wire fence that surrounded the cemetery were visible in the spoil piles left behind after the university employees used heavy equipment to clear the cemetery site. (For more on the results of the exhumations, please see: No Mass Grave at Dozier School Cemetery: Media Falls Silent.

The historic cemetery fence and limits should not be confused - as many reporters have done - with the small memorial area that enclosed 31 crosses at the site.  The cemetery had been long abandoned by the time those crosses were placed.

The next post will focus on the actual history of the memorial crosses and will clear away many of the false statements made about them in the press.


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