Panel on Dozier victims reinterment sends issue back to legislature

By Troy Kinsey, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 19, 2016, 11:11 PM EDT

The panel charged with recommending the final resting place of dozens of bodies uncovered on what was previously the Dozier School for Boys voted Friday to hand the task to the Florida Legislature.

  • Some panel members wished remains interred on Dozier campus
  • Others wished remain re-interred closer to Central Florida
  • Panel recommended memorials be built in Tallahassee, Jackson County

After two meetings consumed by deep disagreements between the Dozier Task Force's members, it became clear that a resolution to the reinterment issue couldn't be reached. The divisions broke largely along racial lines, with the panel's African-American members arguing for the remains to be laid to rest on the Dozier campus in Marianna, 60 miles west of Tallahassee.

White members of the panel, however, largely advocated to move the remains to a site along the I-4 corridor.

"The majority of the boys who went there were from the central part of Florida, and those boys died because they tried to run away and leave there," said Charles Fudge, a former Dozier student. "Why would we want to leave their bodies there?"

The majority of the remains have been identified as belonging to African-American students who are believed to have been beaten to death by Dozier staff, predominantly in the 1950s and '60s. Moving the bodies to a site hundreds of miles from the campus, critics contend, would prevent Dozier's history from being fully memorialized and could even prompt vandalism.

"Why drive to Tampa to watch a bunch of, to see a lot of stones that's been crushed up by the hammerheads, by the skinheads, by the Aryan Brotherhood, by the Ku Klux Klan or any of those eighteen hate groups headquartered in Hillsborough County?" asked Stephen Britt, whose uncle died at Dozier in 1946.

Britt had proposed reintering the remains in Gadsden County, which is a short drive from Marianna and has a majority African-American population. That idea failed to gain enough support, however, and the task force ultimately chose to recommend reintering unclaimed remains in Tallahassee until the legislature determines a final resting place.

Members also agreed to recommend that Dozier memorials be built in Tallahassee and Jackson County, where the school is located.

It was clear, however, that some members considered their business unfinished.

"If you don't start coming together like brothers and sisters, all of us are going to die like fools," said Jerry Cooper, a former Dozier student and leader of the 'White House Boys', a group named for the infamous Dozier building where the most horrific beatings occurred.