MARIANNA, Fla. (WTXL) — A memorial now stands on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys, a place where former students say they were abused and beaten. Some didn't survive the abuse.
The school operated for more than 100 years before it was shut down in 2011 following more than 500 former students coming forward with allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
A dedication ceremony for the memorial happened Friday afternoon. The ceremony was somber but hopeful. Many of the survivors or loved ones of survivors who spoke talked about the importance of acknowledging what happened here, but also the importance of healing and moving on.
"Being here is really hurtful," said Cecil Gardener, one of the survivors, "and I can't really even look at the statue because it brings back so many horrible memories."
The Dozier School for boys is no longer a place of horrors... instead a memorial for the victims of physical abuse or worse. Survivors, known as the White House boys remember the days as a child growing up at the state run reform school. Charles Fudge is one of the survivors of the abuse that happened at the school.
"I endured on my third day here the worst beating of my life," said Fudge.
Fudge says he was sent to the school at 12-years-old because he was skipping school and smoking cigarettes. He stayed there for nine months before he got to go home. He says the memorial is a reminder of what he endured as a young boy.
"It's overwhelming... I couldn't walk past the bed or even get close to it," Fudge explained.
Cecil Gardener, is also a White House Boy. He was sent to the school when he was 14 for 9 months. He says even though there's acknowledgement of what happened at the school, he hopes reparations will come soon.
"A lot of our brothers are dead and gone, would not see it but we're still hoping that the state of Florida will do the right thing," Gardener said.
Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and professor at the University of South Florida, did a research project on the grounds documenting the graves. Her team found 55 bodies and were able to identify them and get them back with their families. They were also able to collect stories of what happened at the school, adding it's important for the site to be memorialized.
This is so much a story of what happened to children and people before civil rights. I mean there were children that were arrested and sent here without their families knowing what happened to them. They didn't have lawyers," Dr. Kimmerle explained.
Fudge says what happened at Dozier is not something he can get past but he has been able to move on.
"As you get older, you get wiser and realize the reality of life and it's purposes, and yes it was a bad thing that happened here but I thank God I'm a survivor," Fudge said.
Doctor Kimmerle says she's hoping to have an exhibit on what happened at Dozier travel the state. She says it's still in the works at this time. There is also plans to have a museum on the Dozier grounds.