White House Boys: A story of modern day slavery

By Mahogany Linebarger | 8/14/2013, 4:02 p.m.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida has given the University of South Florida the okay
to being the body exhumations at the infamous Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys
campus. This victory comes after years of local and legal battles that resulted in
semi-successful investigations done by the state of Florida.

The Arthur G. Dozier school for boys (or Dozier reform school), opened its gates in
1900 promising an educational and life transforming experience to the boys who
would be ordered to attend by the state of Florida justice department. This promise
was short lived as by the 1960’s the Dozier reform school was known more for the
harsh beatings, mysterious deaths and disappearances and rapes than for
educating and reforming its students.

On June 30 2011 the school was formally closed and a plaque was put up in
memory of the students and of the schools failures. “We took this as an apology”
says Mr. Roger Kiser. Mr. Kiser was a student at the Dozier school once in 1959
and then again 1960. We was sent to the school by order of a judge we does not
recall seeing and after spending just a short time at Dozier and enduring and
witnessing the “merciless” and brutal beating and treatment he vowed we would
one day tell his story.

Mr. Kiser is the author of the book White House Boys: an American Tragedy
published in 2009. The book tells the stories of his time spent at Dozier. In graphic
detail he conveys the day-to-day fear and mistreatment.

White House Boys is the compilation of a 25-year vendetta against the Dozier
school that began after a beating Mr. Kiser received by one of the schools staff. “I
was so bloody after I couldn’t sit down” “I asked to go to the bathroom and
mumbled that I would get out and tell what you all are doing to us on day.”
The White House Boys is now a name used to describe some 300 men who attended the Dozier Reform School in the 1950’s through the 1960’s. They gathered and
began telling their stories to newspapers a few years ago. These men tell a very similar story of suffering and fear about their time spent at the school.

Mr. Jonny Gaddy was 11 when he was ordered to the Dozier reform school, “ they took me to the north side of the campus that was the black side,” he says. “I thought
slavery was gone,” Gaddy explains that the work he was forced to do was everything but educational. He was forced to pull stumps out of mud driving a tractor and
picking up garbage.

Mr. Richard Huntly also spent time at the Dozier school between 1957 and 1959 along with his two brothers. “We thought we were going to school,” said Mr. Huntly.
Mr. Huntly speaks says much be in bondage, boys would attempt to run away. These boys would go missing.

The time that these men speak when telling their stories was a period in American history where slavery was indeed illegal but took on other forms throughout the
country. Peonage by definition is when someone pays off a debt by working for no monetary compensation. Though it was outlawed in the country several years
before Dozier opened it’s gates, the school basically structured itself in a peonage-like system. Boys ordered to attend were working out their debt to society rather
than receiving an education.

“The whole town benefitted from the labor of the boys,” says Mr. Huntly. Dozier campus is located in Marianna, Florida. In the 1950’s the town was a small “panhandle”
area with very poor residents. Mr. Kiser explains that the crops and agricultural work the boys were made to do was largely for the benefit of the town.

Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle will be leading the search at the Dozier campus. In early searches she and her team found almost 50 grave sites some with
more than one person in them. The search is made difficult by the fact that there is no record of any deaths at the school but it is known that at the very least 80 boys
dies there.

For Ms. Kimmerle and her team, they are hoping provide answers as to how many boys died at Dozier and possibly identify them. From there it is up to the stats of
Florida to decided if the remains should be returned to the families for proper burial.

“ I wish for some kind of closure to the families members,” says Mr. Gaddy. Mr. Huntly says that what he hopes for in all this is a straightening of the record. “They took
a part of life that they could never get back.”

Mr. Kiser says that first there needs to be a formal and genuine apology by the school and the state. From there the remains of the boys should be returned to their
families and the campus should be either sold or remodeled in a respectable way.