"Black Boys of Dozier Reform School" Hold Press Conference - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

"Black Boys of Dozier Reform School" Ask for Justice at Press Conference

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The group known as "The Black Boys of Dozier" are letting it be known: the former reform school was not so much a school as it was a nightmare.

During a press conference in Marianna Saturday, The group gathered to spread that message.

The men describe the institution that was supposed to be a place to improve their lives as more of a work camp that destroyed them. Now, they're seeking justice not only for themselves, but for those that never left the grounds.

For the second time since leaving the Dozier Reform school in Marianna, John Bonner revisits his past.

"You know the way we were treated... it just kind of forced you to try to grow up over night," said Bonner.

He and four other self-proclaimed "Black Boys" met Saturday to share their experiences of beatings and mistreatment.

"Well, the painful memory I think is part of that process of us trying to get closure," said Bonner.

Those struggles were evident as one-by-one each man talked of what they called a "living hell". Those experiences, they say, robbed them of a part of their childhood.

"They take you to the ice cream house, ice cream house is where they kill you at and whip you at," said 82-year-old Leo Collier.

"I started crying, I wanted my mother," said Johnny Gaddy.  

The now closed Arthur G. Dozier School has been at the center of a state wide controversy over alleged abuse and the possibility of more than 50 unmarked graves discovered by University of South Florida researchers.

"Did the juvenile system sentence these boys to Dozier to become modern day slaves," said Antoinnette Harrell.

"They didn't give you any "time"," said Collier. "He just says, 'I'm sending you to Marianna.'

"But it wasn't no school. It was a work camp."

Supporters asked for justice and for the state to recognize what they say happened at Dozier.

"We are not here to grief," said Art Rocker, Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "We are here to wake up America concerning Dozier." 

On Tuesday, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will decide whether to give USF researchers the go ahead to exhume the possible graves at Dozier.

"We're going to make sure that whatever they do they'll be allowed to do legally," said Scott on Saturday.

Researchers will have one year to search for the bodies of boys who reportedly died between 1900 and 1952 at the one-time "high risk" reform school.