Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cabinet hears Dozier Report, apologizes for "unspeakable horrors"

A group of Jackson County's Citizens of the Year warn the
media in 2014 that it was being one-sided in its coverage and
that no evidence of murders of students by staff would be
found at the Dozier School for Boys "Boot Hill" cemetery.
Photo courtesy of the Jackson County Times.
In a meeting that began late and was filled with jokes, the Florida Cabinet today heard the University of South Florida's project at Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Please click here to read a summary of that report or to read the entire document.

Cabinet members and Governor Rick Scott apologized to former Dozier students for the "unspeakable horrors" inflicted on them by the Jackson County residents who worked at Dozier School for Boys. The Cabinet members also praised Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida (USF) and the former students of the school.

Kimmerle presented her final report to the Cabinet. She called it a "historic project" and said the results achieved were "remarkable."

She said that the objective was to locate the burials and to identify the individuals buried in the graves so their remains could be returned to their families. She also said a main objective was to study the 1,400 acre campus to find other graves that might be located there.

Kimmerle told the Cabinet members that her team pursued all leads on the history of the Campus, a deliberately incorrect statement as she and her team refused to examine thousands of pages of documents offered to them by this writer.

She said that prior to the beginning of the exhumations, she and her team did ground truthing to determine which features were graves and which were fence posts, etc.  At the time, however, USF denied that it had dug into any of the graves and said it was only doing "stratigraphic" analysis.

Kimmerle also mentioned that her team found and removed thousands of artifacts. She did not mention that other artifacts were left behind in the tracks of her team's vehicles.

Among the coffins found, according to Dr. Kimmerle, were seven infant coffins that contained the remains of students and employees who died in the 1914 fire at one of the school's dormitory.

She mentioned that "a number of the boys" had burial shrouds, a standard mortuary practice of the early 20th century.

The professor, however, left out key information when she told Cabinet members that a lead pellet consistent with a lead shot was found in one of the graves. She mentioned the pellet, but did not tell the Cabinet that FDLE has examined the artifact and determined it was likely from a muzzle-loading black powder weapon. Guns of that type were antiques by the time the Florida Reform School (later Dozier School) was even built.

She said her team used "fire hoses" to push water through screens while digging at the site of the burned dormitory. Kimmerle indicated that small fragments of bone were found at the burned dormitory site, all believed to be associated with the individuals who died in that fire more than 110 years ago.

Kimmerle also said that USF has positively identified only 7 of the individuals that her team exhumed from the cemetery. Four have been reburied. The other 47 individuals exhumed remain in boxes at the University of South Florida.

Although the university earlier claimed to identify the remains of one of the employees who died in the 1914 fire, Kimmerle today said that they cannot positively identify his remains and that he will likely be buried with the "unknowns."

She made no references to murders in her discussion. Later in answer to a question from the Cabinet members, the professor said that, "We feel like our field work is done. "We feel like we have exhausted everything we can do in looking for additional burials."

Kimmerle was followed by Dr. Christian Wells, a professor of archaeology at USF. He indicated that the university investigated a number of other locations pointed out by former students as "burial" sites. "We surveyed 35 different regions," he said. None of those areas, he reported, revealed any evidence of human remains. In other words, claims that "hundreds" of graves and a "second cemetery" would be found on the campus were completely false.

Wells also indicated that contamination was found on areas of the campus. He encouraged the Governor and Cabinet to follow up on the issue.

Antoinette Jackson, another USF professor, then spoke about "the living." She said that "segregation" resonates today at the campus, which is now abandoned. She noted that some communities disagreed with the project and that the university needed to incorporate them into their narratives, something they have yet to do.

Jackson mentioned the need for additional "financial support." She focused on education, although many of the university's public forums and discussions about Dozier have focused on "restorative justice."

She mentioned that the team will be traveling to Japan - presumably at taxpayer expense - to tell the Dozier story.

Jackson concluded by encouraging those with "stories" to come forward. While the project was underway, however, USF absolutely refused to view thousands of pages of documentation in the possession of this writer.

None of the professors ever mentioned the word "murder" in relation to the graves. Kimmerle also finally admitted that all of the burials were found in a 50 by 150 foot area on Boot Hill. A few pieces of bone were also found in the ruins of the burned dormitory but did not contain enough material for DNA analysis.

NO other graves were found on campus. There was no second cemetery nor were any hidden graves found.

Jerry Cooper, a former student, addressed the Cabinet and urged that the bodies "not be returned to that area" saying the reasons why were "apparent." He said, "I don't know what happened at Marianna."

Charles Fudge, another former student, then spoke and said he was "Troy Tidwell's office boy" and swore there is a second cemetery with at least 30 graves on campus. He asked that the White House Boys be allowed to go look for it. The area he claimed contains the cemetery was among those investigated by USF and nothing was found.

Other former students said they wanted the dead interred "somewhere other than Jackson County." "Please don't leave those children there," the widow of a student begged, claiming that there are more graves still to be located at the campus.

Robert Straley, a former student, said that he has suffered an unfortunate accident recently that left him with his sixth concussion. He pointed out that many in Marianna are being forced to live with the blame for something they did not do. He called for a monument to be built and spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation.  He said the "whip has no place in our society." Corporal punishment at Dozier School ended more than 40 years ago.

Andrew Puel said he had heard "very credible testimony" that boys had been murdered at the school. USF, however, found no evidence of murders. Puel said he had "sworn statements" from former juveniles that they had seen killings, including a shooting, at the school.

Puel went on to say he wasn't telling the stories to be "sensational." He requested access for researchers to the ledgers that remain sealed due to juvenile privacy laws. FDLE, however, does have access to these ledgers as part of its current investigation.

Jerry Cooper then reappeared before the Cabinet and said that many former students had cancelled plans to attend "at the last minute." Others were present and he introduced them.

Dale Landry from the NAACP then appeared before the Cabinet. He called for a place that they can "sanctify" to hold the remains until they can be identified. He called for turning the old chapel on campus into a mausoleum until the remains can be identified, even if it takes decades. He also called for turning the "White House" into a permanent memorial to the "horrors" that took place at the school. Landry also asked for the state to fund reburial of identified remains.

Jim Dean, City Manager of Marianna, then spoke. He said he appeared with a group of civic and business leaders including County Commissioner Chuck Lockey and others. He offered the community's support to bring closure to the process.

Elmore Bryant, former Mayor of Marianna, spoke and asked for the land to be given back to Marianna. He said the leaders of Marianna were "men of character." He said that "We will make you proud of what we do with that land. We've been banged, but there are some good things that people don't talk about." He noted that the people of Marianna "respected me as the first black mayor of Marianna."

"When you come to Marianna, there are many good sides," Bryant continued. He invited the governor to come and talk.

Attorney General Pam Bondi then said to the White House Boys, "We know that you have suffered terrible, unspeakable atrocities." Bondi apparently didn't know the name of Jackson County, which she called "Marianna County, a beautiful county." She called Bondi a "Hero."

Earlier in the session, Bondi yelled out "Yayyyyyyyy!!" when told that USF students were in the room and praised Kimmerle for her "ground-breaking" work.

The university spent more than $600,000 in state and federal taxpayer funding on its Dozier project, even after FDLE had determined that there was no evidence of criminal activity by employees involving the cemetery. Meanwhile, USF President Dr. Judy Genshaft told Cabinet members that her institution has eliminated more than 50 other educational programs, including industrial training.

Please click here to read a summary of the key points in the USF report or to read the full report itself.

To learn the true history of the Dozier School cemetery, please consider my book Death at Dozier School: The Attempted Assassination of an American City (available in both paperback and Kindle formats).




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