Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Tampa Atrocities: Officially-sanctioned beatings, torture and death in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Skyline of Tampa, Florida
Photo by Lauren Pitone
by Dale Cox

This is a story that the Tampa Bay Times would not not tell.

There is a place in Florida where beatings of jail inmates was commonplace. It is a place where those in custody were stretched out face down in public view and lashed with a leather whip for minor offenses. It is a place where the officials called upon to investigate the practice voted instead to legally authorize it. And it happened during the 20th century.

Marianna and Dozier School?  Some other sleepy small town nestled in the pines and steeped in Old South tradition?  No, that place is Tampa and Hillsborough County, home to the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Times.

The use of the lash by authorities in Tampa and Hillsborough County was widespread and accepted deep into the 20th century. It continued for decades and no prisoner was immune to the threat of flogging on the whim of city and county officials. Judges even beat children in the courtrooms of the city.

The Tampa Tribune reported in 1909 that the practice of flogging prisoners had been initiated there ten years earlier by Judge Whitaker of the municipal court.  He "set a precedent," the historical account noted, "by personally applying the lash to two boy offenders convicted in his court."

The word "precedent" according to Merriam-Webster means "something done or said that can be used as an example or rule to be followed in the future."  When Judge Whitaker beat two children in Tampa's municipal court, he set an "example or rule to be followed in the future." Hillsborough County was not shy in following that example.

Road Gang Members in the 1920s
On April 10, 1921, for example, the Tampa Tribune reported that it had received a letter from a "well-known woman resident of Clearwater" who alleged that she had witnessed the "brutal flogging of a convict."

The unidentified eyewitness said that she and several others were traveling by car between Oldsmar and Tampa on the afternoon of Thursday, April 7, when she witnessed "the most brutal act I have ever seen." In a letter to the editor of the Tribune, she described seeing a county road camp prisoner face-down on the ground beside the road as a guard beat him "with all his might with a leather strap." The sound of the beating was so loud that the witnesses could hear each of the blows as they struck the man.

The woman was unable to say how long the beating went on, but she said that it continued for the entire time she and others in the car were within sight of the road crew. She also said that it caused her to wonder what else happened in the county prison camp "where there was no public to look on."

The eyewitness raised a good question. If a guard was so bold as to force an inmate to stretch out face down by a public road for a beating that continued for an untold length of time, what else could have been taking place in Hillsborough County away from the eyes of the public?  Could inmates of the county's prison camp have been maimed or even killed by the floggings they received?

The incident took place in the County Commission district of John T. Gunn, who told the Tribune that he had no reports of "extreme conduct on the part of the guards." He promised to make a "thorough investigation" of the allegations.

Hillsborough County Courthouse in 1921
Burgert Brothers photos, Courtesy Florida Memory Collection
True to his word, Gunn did investigate. In fact, he was so impressed with the details of the beating that he recommended the implementation of flogging as a standard punishment in Hillsborough County.  In fact, the Hillsborough County Commission called the county's sheriff on the carpet before a meeting of the board to demand he explain why 15 federal prisoners housed at the county jail were not turned over to the county to be used as forced laborers on its roads.  The sheriff had previously told Commissioner Gunn that he was willing to allow the county to use the prisoners, but that they could not be flogged. Before the commissioners on that day in 1921, however, he changed his mind and "withdrew his restrictions."

On April 14, 1921, the Tampa Tribune ran letters from readers both supporting and opposing the beating of county inmates with whips. On the same day the newspaper reported that Superintendent McIntosh, who managed the work camp, had given assurances that "no color discrimination" was being made in selecting inmates for flogging. McIntosh proudly described the whipping of three men in one day, two of them white and one black. The road camp "boss" told the newspaper that floggings also took place in the state convict camp in Hillsborough County as well.

The county's investigation of the beatings at its road camp ended with a commission vote giving full sanction to flogging as a suitable punishment for inmates.

St. Petersburg, Florida
Photo by Lauren Pitone
Flogging, in fact, became so popular in the Tampa Bay area that it soon spread to St. Petersburg. In 1931, ten years after Hillsborough County officially adopted flogging, a civilian group in neighboring Pinellas County started a "flogging for hire" organization.  For the right amount of money, they would arrange the flogging of anyone you wanted flogged.

The commercial floggers, however, went afoul of the law when they flogged... the law. On March 8, 1931, the group kidnapped and flogged Constable F.A. Howard of Ballast Point. Arrests followed.

Despite such evidence that flogging was reaching out of control proportions around Tampa Bay, the practice continued. On November 30, 1935, officers of the Tampa Police Department seized three Union labor organizers without a warrant and carried them to police headquarters. The men were illegally questioned about their political and organizing activities as a "mob" gathered outside. When the three Socialist Party members - Joseph Shoemaker, E.F. Pulnot and S.D. Rogers - were released, they were seized on the grounds of the Tampa Police Department by the "ruffian band" that lay in wait. Carried to a remote area, they were flogged and then scalding hot tar and feathers were poured on their bodies.

Pulnot and Rogers survived the barbarous treatment, but Shoemaker did not.  He died one week later from hideous injuries. Rev. G.F. Snyder of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Tampa boldly spoke out against the atrocity, aiming his finger at "the very citadel of justice and law administration." A mass meeting was held, but public officials did not attend.

The focus of the nation fixed itself on Tampa. Florida Governor Dave Sholtz demanded a thorough investigation and labor leader Norman Thomas accused law enforcement of mishandling the investigation to "save the face of Tampa police and higher-ups." The president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) threatened to cancel his group's planned national convention, set for Tampa in 1936.

Tampa Police officers in 1935
Courtesy Florida Memory Collection, Florida State Archives
Then came the bombshell. Six Tampa policemen were arrested on the night of December 18, 1935, on charges that they were members of the so-called "ruffian band." Shoemaker's death, it was alleged, did not result from an attack by a mob, but instead was an execution carried out with a lash and hot tar by Tampa police. A member of the city's fire department also was arrested.

A second bombshell came on January 23, 1936, when Tampa Police Chief R.G. Tittsworth was indicted by a special grand jury as an accessory to the crime. In the end, a total of 10 arrests were made in connection with the incident and Governor Sholtz appointed a special prosecutor to handle the case, saying in the process that he meant no disrespect to the Hillsborough County Solicitor, C.Jay Hardee.

The police officers were acquitted. The family of Joseph Shoemaker never received justice. There was no closure.

Nine hate groups are active around Tampa Bay
Photo by Lauren Pitone
A national civil rights publication called it a "Whitewash" and alleged that the police officers were members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Whether they were or not is impossible to prove, but the Tampa Bay area is still infested with hate groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Alabama, there are 9 hate groups active in the Tampa Bay area. These include the New Black Panther Party, Neo-Nazis, Christian Identity and the racist Skinhead group Confederate Hammerskins. By comparison, Miami and North Miami are home to three hate groups, only one-third as many as Tampa Bay.  Marianna and Jackson County, home to the former Dozier School, have none.

The Tampa Bay Times has run story after story on the allegations of murders at Dozier School, even though 52 of the 55 people exhumed from the Dozier Cemetery are believed to have been buried there more than 75 years ago. How many stories has it published in the last two years about the officially-sanctioned beatings and death in Hillsborough County from the same era?  None.

I told Ben Montgomery, a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times, about the Tampa floggings in April 2013 and he told me he had never heard of them. I encouraged him to look into them. As of today, his paper continues to publicly ignore the horrors that took place in Tampa even while "seeking the truth" about Marianna. Montgomery has not responded to an email asking why he elected not to report on events that took place in his own community.

Think the official violence in Tampa and Hillsborough County ended long before the days of the "White House Boys" at Dozier School in Marianna?  Watch this video and think again: 2008 Abuse at Hillsborough County Jail.

The Tampa Bay Times at least covered that one.  And then there is this one, reported just today by the Tampa Tribune:  Woman dragged by Tampa police officer.

So far as is known no Tampa area media outlet has tried to find either the survivors of beatings or the families of individuals who were abused by authorities in Hillsborough County during the early 20th century. They continue, however, to run interviews and stories about alleged events that took place in Jackson County at exactly the same time in history.

The University of South Florida, meanwhile,  is spending more than $600,000 of taxpayer money in a "humanitarian effort" to identify 55 unknown graves at Dozier School.  How much money has USF spent to identify the 187 unknown graves at Woodlawn Cemetery within 15 minutes of the doors of its Anthropology Department?

Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General
She has made no calls for justice in Hillsborough County atrocities.
How much money has the university spent to learn whether any beaten and abused inmates disappeared from the Hillsborough County Road Camp in the 1920s and 30s?

How much money has USF spent looking for a "lost" cemetery associated with the atrocities suffered by adults and children in Hillsborough County?

How many times has Attorney General Pam Bondi commented on the documented atrocities that took place in Tampa and Hillsborough County?  How often has she called for closure for the families of the victims?

Officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department spent time in Marianna assisting USF in its exhumation of the graves from the Dozier School Cemetery. How much time did they spend last year looking into the skeletons of their own past?

I think you already know the answers to these questions.

This is the first in a series of articles on this topic. Watch for part two in coming days.


Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that the Hillsborough County Sheriff flew Dr. Kimmerle to Jackson County in the the sheriff department's helicopter. Why are the Citizens of Tampa and Hillsborough county footing the bill for this? More government waste!

Dale Cox said...

That is a very good question. Let's see if we an find out.


BILL PRICE said...

I can hardly believe what I am reading Dale. you seem to me to be an educated person that is entitled to his opinion, which is what you are giving when you make your statements because there is proof otherwise that there is more that happened at Dozier than even you know. As a historian you lack a lot of investigative skills. You fill the heads of the people you live with and near with useless speculation. I for one know different about the things you report and there are many more who lived the nightmare but you have not spoken to these people to truly know your history. You are content to listen to one person than to believe the sworn testimony of 500 men who lived the life. Many claim we were the worst of the worst and deserved what we got, to them I say ("believe what you will, but I would not treat an animal the way we were treated and I challenge you to close your eyes and picture a 10 or 12 year old child laying on a bed and a grown man with a 4.2 lb leather strap hitting that child with enough force to draw blood and then imagine that child is your son.") not a nice picture even if he was hit just once. I read where you are attacking other cities and persons that brought this to light and trying to correct a wrong. Why? you talk about floggings in Tampa and St. Pete, but you don't mention hangings in your town. Why? It would be more advantageous for you to stay on target with the history that you know and not attack people personally. I am sure if there was something that happened in your town and you wanted to right a wrong it would not matter to you what resources were used to achieve that truth. Maybe its time for everyone to except the fact that there were deaths and abuse that happened at the Dozier school and it is not written down for you to put in a journal. You want history ask me.

Dale Cox said...

Bill, It is time the world know the truth about what happened in Tampa and the atrocities that were carried out there. Victims who are still alive need justice and their families need closure.

On the White House allegations, the real problem in terms of credibility is with some of the wilder claims like one person who said he was beaten with an "electronic whipping machine" and with individuals who have changed their stories under oath. Otherwise, I do not dispute most of what has been said.

I do dispute, however, the claims that hundreds of bodies would be found in the cemetery and that staff members killed students. I don't believe it and have yet to see any evidence that it happened.

Otherwise, you have had no shortage of publicity and I have seen no cause to challenge you on much of what you have said.

I do think flogging was wrong, whether it happened at Dozier, in Tampa or in some of the other places I will unveil in coming days and weeks. It wasn't a Dozier problem, it was an American problem. It is part of our history and we should look at it on the scale that it really happened, not just one location.

Why shouldn't the victims of Tampa have justice?


Dale Cox said...

P.S. Bill, just so you are aware, I did offer to sit down with White House leaders to hear their stories and look at their evidence. I have the emails from two years ago to prove it. They declined.


Anonymous said...

The dig ain`t over yet matter of fact Tampa Tribune has a picture of the research team digging in the white cemetary on the south side of the campus where I put them yellow flags in the ground.

Anonymous said...

Gene Holloway Story Cigar City Magazine Tampa Florida.Here is some more dirt on Tampa Mafia

Dale Cox said...

Here is the story on Gene Holloway mentioned in the comment above:

BILL PRICE said...

I will give you the benefit of truth in that I don't know how many bodies are buried on the campus and only god knows if they will ever be found if there are more. I can truthfully say that I never saw one buried and have no firsthand knowledge of how many or where they would be. I do hope for the sake of the families that if there are more that they be found and identified. As far as someone being beaten with an electronic whipping machine, I might have a couple questions for that individual myself. I believe that some children met with early and untimely deaths, by who's hand I don't know and I am willing to let the experts do their job and give me the results afterwards and prevent me from having to speculate. I can understand everyone in your area wanting to champion the cause of family and friends, but there comes a time when you have to throw in the towel and just say I don't like to admit but the evidence is to overwhelming. As I said before, I don't believe anyone from Marianna or anywhere in this country would participate or condone any of the abuse that happened, but it was a different time and an entirely different mindset 50 years ago. It is good for your community to have someone like you to keep them informed and to stick up for them when the evidence is overwhelmingly in their favor but also to let them know that some things are possible when the evidence points in the other direction. something to think about.

Dale Cox said...

Bill, Thank you for the note. I believe that the Tampa story and others that I am going to post over coming weeks actually will be of interest to you and others in your organization. They show that these things were common across Florida and were sanctioned by the government. I've found evidence from Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville so far and am looking into Okeechobee. I'm looking for cases that were documented at the time and there are many.


ChasHarold "Chuck" Simmons said...

hi Dale,
by way of introduction I had a successful career in the Alabama Department of Corrections as the senior research analyst. during this period I had the opportunity to write a draft of Alabama's prison history... see url

the atrocities that happened at Tampa were typical of the "lease system" throughout the State of Florida... Tampa was not unique rather the norm...
it was from this system that the Florida Industrial School was borne... the state of the art of prison (mis)management.... reports made public since the inception of the boys school sounds so similar to what occured at Tampa, and statewide... as far as that goes, sounds like what happened throughout the South's prison history...

I am also a White House Boy, being brutally beat on 3 occasions during 1956-58... I was released and returned in 1958-59 when I subsequently completed my GED and was awared an all expense scholarship to Chipola from the Fla Sheriff's Assn... I was 16...

I was a bigger boy... many of those smaller kids caught the brunt of the excessive brutality... some were not only small, but also emotionally and mentally vulnerable to those few that misused their authority... very much like Tampa and the entire State... FIS was borne from the lease system and such was the role model for that day and time...

I've enjoyed your perspective and look forward to your future blogs...
in peace

Dale Cox said...

Chuck, Thank you for the note and it is nice to "meet" you. Perhaps we are beginning to find some common ground for reasonable discussion. I think that would be good for all involved.

I agree with you on the evils of the "lease" system in Florida and elsewhere. It was a cruel system that amounted to slavery.

There was a national push toward flogging as a form of corrections in 1900-1945. Congressmen and Senators even were advocating it. It is amazing that some of the things we find shocking today were considered "state of the art" less than 100 years ago.

I suspect that people will be amazed by how widespread the practice it was in Florida. It was definitely approved punishment at all state prison camps.


Anonymous said...

This is all so sad. I'm so sad for all of you. Especially Dale Cox. Learning to handle truth is hard but it is also important to the legacy you leave behind.

Dale Cox said...

I agree, I was shocked to learn that this kind of thing happened in a major "enlightened" metropolitan area like Tampa and that the media and USF have completely ignored it.


RICESKI said...

Hello Dale Cox, I'm a WHB from Okeechobee. I have held back my story but have read others. One person who used a made up nic name [like I do] said he was in both Marianna and Okeechobee and Okeechobee was much worse. I only know this. I was beaten by a man who acted like a rabid dog and put into lock down until my body healed enough to go back into the general population. I was a child. The men that were beaten is very sad and I hope they get justice as well. One difference is we were children not adults and that makes a big difference. The first wack [ I challenge you to get a velocity study done] with a steel braced leather strap nearly an inch thick sent me into a level of shock I have never forgotten. It was torture. If the terrorist at Guantanamo under US authority were beaten like I was, the authorities would be put in prison. You seem to write in a way that keeps pointing the finger away from what happened to us WHBz. Why? How about using our group to lead the way for all of the tortured, abused, raped, molested and murdered boys and men to get justice? Wouldn't that help everyone? Yes it is horrid what happened to us but this cover up and delay caused by the FDLE and Florida legislature is just as bad to me. A civil agreement with you is a great idea and you're welcome to engage my cause [ Can't speak for all the WHBz.] Wishing you the best there. PS when the lawyers say we can talk about this I will be one of the first. In closing :thanks for your efforts.

Vic Campbell said...

I know a WHB who lives in our County. I don't think he wants wider knowledge of his experience, but it was horrific. In the mid 60s he somehow escaped and joined the army underage. Was blown up by a mine in Vietnam. Years of surgery and rehab later, he ran his own contracting business. He never took disability pay and avoids most government contact where possible. Retired now.

Vic Campbell said...

I know a WHB who lives in our County. I don't think he wants wider knowledge of his experience, but it was horrific. In the mid 60s he somehow escaped and joined the army underage. Was blown up by a mine in Vietnam. Years of surgery and rehab later, he ran his own contracting business. He never took disability pay and avoids most government contact where possible. Retired now.

Bob said...

Beating up Tampa for flogging? Sure it was everywhere. The difference is that at Dozier it was boys, not the hard road gang convicts you depicted. The younger boys got the worst beatings and more of them than the older boys. Your town let flogging take place at Dozier for 68 years. You would think someone would have tried to stop it but no one did. That will be Marianna's legacy. Remember this all started over the beatings.

Dale Cox said...

Bob, You should have read the entire article because it noted that flogging was done to children in Tampa and included two pieces of video showing that official abuse continues there to this day.

Regarding Marianna and flogging at Dozier School, yes it happened there. I'm not sure what authority a small community in Jackson County has (or had) to overrule the powerful State of Florida which was responsible for it, but if you can show me that part of the Constitution I will gladly post it here for everyone to see.

Dozier School was a state facility, not a city or county one, and as such crimes on its campus were the responsibility of the state and - I believe - it is the state that should provide justice to those who can prove they were abused there.


Dale Cox said...

P.S. - The administrator of Dozier School - by state law from the first day the school opened - could not be from Marianna and Jackson County and was always someone the state sent in from elsewhere.


Dale Cox said...

P.S.S. - And since people seem to forget, I have never disputed that floggings took place at the school. I believe some of the stories are false or exaggerated (I gave an example above of one guy who claims he was beat with an "electric whipping machine"), but that others are true. I do not believe, however, that the graves on campus contain remains of students who were murdered by employees.