With one senator pointing Wednesday to “violations of fundamental human decency,” the Florida Legislature has formally apologized for the mistreatment of juveniles held at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
The Senate on Wednesday joined the House and unanimously approved a resolution (SR 1440) acknowledging the physical and sexual abuse of boys who were sent to the now-closed reform school, and a related facility in Okeechobee, from 1900 to 2011.
“We apologize. We are sorry,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who sponsored the resolution and was joined by 35 other Senate co-sponsors. “This resolution on behalf of this Florida Senate commits to ensuring that the children of Florida are protected from this kind of abuse and violations of fundamental human decency.”
Turning to more than a dozen former Dozier students sitting in the Senate’s public gallery, Rouson said: “Through you, yet the living, the bones still cry out.”
He was referring to a forensic investigation carried out by the University of South Florida that identified 55 graves sites at the Jackson County facility, although there were only official records for 24 burials. The investigation led to the identification of some of remains, allowing families to reclaim their relatives.
It brought tears to my eyes because it was a good feeling that they had admitted to the wrong that they had done to us.
Johnny Lee Gaddy, 71, who was sent to the school as an 11-year-old
The House unanimously passed a similar resolution on April 18.
“It brought tears to my eyes because it was a good feeling that they had admitted to the wrong that they had done to us,” said Johnny Lee Gaddy, a 71-year-old Brooksville resident who was sent to Dozier as an 11-year-old in 1957.
He spent five years at the reform school, and suffered a half-dozen beatings, because he was labeled as a “truant” while in the fifth grade.
“I didn’t go to school because I stuttered and the kids used to pick at me,” he said.
In addition to the resolution, Rouson said he hopes the Senate will take up a House bill (HB 7115) that would fund two memorials for the Dozier victims, one in Tallahassee and another in Jackson County. The bill would also authorize the reburial of the unclaimed Dozier remains in Tallahassee and the reinterment of the 1914 fire victims at the Boot Hill cemetery at the former reform school.
Rouson said the formal apologies from the Senate and House were “huge” in affirming the Dozier students’ stories and helping “the healing process.”
“It gives them something to live the golden years of their lives with, the fact that the state acknowledged this shameful part of our history,” Rouson said.