White House Boys
4 months ago
The bodies of 100, mostly black, boys are found at a Fla. reform school
The first night 13-year-old Robert Straley arrived to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1963, he initially thought it was a decent place to stay. Sent there after problems at home with his mother, Straley found himself sitting with other newcomers to a Florida state reform school located in the Panhandle community of Marianna off Interstate 10. He’d run away from home three different times, which is the main reason he ended up at Dozier.
“It looked like a college campus,” he recalled in an interview with Loop 21. “I thought it was nice, but some of the other boys wanted to leave. I didn’t.”
Someone who overheard the speculative conversation informed the administrators and later that night Straley and five other boys were taken to an 11-room, cinder block building called the “White House” where they tragically discovered the Dozier School was far unlike any normal institution of education.
“They whipped me over 40 times,” Straley said, “with a leather whip. The kind used on slaves.”
For over a century, the Dozier School was dogged by whispered rumors of abominable violence against the scores of juvenile boys who were sent there, including flogging, rape, neglect, disappearances and murder. Most former students like Straley struggled to heal in the years after their release, but new evidence may buttress the collective claim they’ve been making since the 1950s, which is that Dozier represents the worst case of institutional abuse of children in modern American history.
In December, researchers from the University of South Florida in Tampa released preliminary findings of research into the deaths which occurred at Dozier, also known as the Florida Industrial School for Boys, and Florida State Reform School, from its opening in 1900 until its closing a century later in 2011.
The results of a Florida state police investigation several years prior led them to believe that there were 31 designated gravesites on the campus grounds. Instead, they turned up 50 graves and evidence that at least 100 people died there from 1914-1973, the overwhelming majority of whom were African-American.
“The black boys had it worse than we did, which is why so many died,” explained Robert Dean Kiser, author of "The White House Boys-An American Tragedy," and a survivor of the Dozier School.
Kiser was sent there twice within a year and a half, at the age of 12 years. “It wasn’t as bad for me because I was an orphan from the age of 2, 3 years old. The state of Florida was my guardian. They treated the black boys at the school worse on the inside than they did those who were living outside, in the community. Most of the boys were there for very minor crimes like skipping school, smoking, listening to rock n’ roll music. If you were smiling, eating too slowly, walking too fast or doing anything the people who worked there didn’t like, they could beat or rape you. Now, we’re finding the bodies.”
(Below, see a clip of alleged abuse at the Dozier school in 2007. Skip to 4:40.)