By Ryan Velez
Researcher Antoinette Harrell has been hard at work trying to find evidence for a case that could potentially reveal a cycle of forced servitude that dates back decades, and EURWeb is reporting on her progress. The infamous Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier for Boys, was a reform school operated by the state in the town of Marianna, from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011, and over the past five years, Harrell believes she has found sufficient evidence to prove that peonage (debt slavery/debt servitude) took place here.
Research has revealed that between the years 1903 and 1913, six legislative committees found that children as young as five years old were shackled with irons and chains, hired out for labor and unjustly beat. Average population by month shows that more Black boys than white boys were at the school, which was segregated until 1967. In the school’s early years, the boys worked alongside State of Florida convicts, picking cotton on nearby farms and building bricks for sale.
This is not ancient history, though, In the year of 1966, the school made $127,030.30 off the labor provided by the boys, with evidence in the Florida State Archives. For example, in February of 1963, 10,300 feet of lumber sold for $669.50, and 3,180 dozen of eggs valued at $1,304.12 was sold.
This was corroborated by interviews with boys who went to the school, both Black and white. Johnny Lee Gaddy, a former student at the school in 1957, recalled driving tractors with logs to the school sawmill at the age of 12. Another interviewee, Robert Staley, went to the school when he was 13 in 1963, and worked as a hospital boy in the school hospital. Staley, who is white, considered himself lucky to not have to do the labor work outside in the heat. “The Dozier black boys did the most of the farm work said,” said Straley.
Harrell’s hope is that this will lead to compensation for the roughly 400 Dozier boys of both races still alive and currently seniors. Many say they were beaten and s*xually abused. Harrell plans to write a letter to Sen. Darryl Rouson, (D-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Tracy Davis, (D-Jacksonville) to review the records showing how much money was made from the boys’ labor. Rouson will then sponsor a bill to try and give money to the remaining former students.
“All Dozier annual financial reports and statements should be analyzed and taken into consideration before a settlement decision can be reached,” said Harrell.