This Day in History

Jan. 1, 1900: Notorious Dozier School for Boys Opens

Time Periods: 1900
Themes: Housing, African American, Criminal Justice & Incarceration
a statue of three boys holding up the one in the middle

A dedication ceremony was held for the Dozier School for Boys Memorial in Marianna, Florida on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Source: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat

As reported by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in its 2014 article, Abuse, Racism Revisited at Florida Reform School:

First opened in 1900, Florida’s Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys swirled with allegations of cruelty, rape, and physical abuse for nearly all of its 111 years.

Located in the panhandle town of Marianna, Florida, the juvenile reform school was a target of frequent state and federal investigations that were largely ineffective: in 1903, investigators documented that boys were frequently held in leg irons; in 1914, six boys died in a dormitory fire; in 1934, a 13-year-old boy died thirty-eight days after arriving at the school on trespassing charges; and at least ninety-six boys died at the camp between 1914 and 1973. Dozier held thousands of boys over the span of its operation – some as young as eight years old, and many on “charges” as minor as trespassing, truancy, and incorrigibility. In 1963, two of four Black teenagers arrested for attempting to integrate a St. Augustine Woolworth’s were sent to the school for five months. Continue reading.

The school was finally closed in 2011, while being investigated by the Department of Justice.

According to Nina Berman and Michael Mechanic in their Mother Jones article, “It Was Kind of Like Slavery”:

At a state hearing last August [2013], after years of agitating by former Dozier boys, researchers from the University of South Florida got permission to unearth bodies from the grounds and run tests to determine who those boys were — and how they died. Last month, the scientists came out with an announcement that was disturbing, if not surprising. They had excavated 55 sets of remains at Dozier’s Boot Hill cemetery, 5 more than they’d originally identified, and 24 more than were indicated in the school’s official records. Other campus locations remain to be searched. Continue reading.

An overgrown structure at the Dozier School after it was closed. Source: Dunn History

Additional Resources

‘A Type of Justice’: Florida Reform School Yields Evidence of More Graves by Richard Luscombe (The Guardian)

Florida’s Dozier School For Boys: A True Horror Story by Greg Allen (NPR’s All Things Considered)

White House Boys Thankful for Dozier Memorial but Continue to Search for Justice by James Call (Tallahassee Democrat)