Discussing the unspeakable

February 3, 2016
Matt Walker

Between 1900 and 2011, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys served as a state reform school and detention center in Marianna, Fla. Behind its brick walls those in charge committed unspeakable acts of abuse, rape, torture and even murder of the boys over the years.

Though rumors of abuse swirled for decades, it wasn’t until University of South Florida forensic anthropologist and professor, Erin Kimmerle, began investigating the campus that the full extent of the abuse was revealed. This included the remains of 51 bodies – 20 more than was officially stated in a 2008 investigation.

Kimmerle will participate in a panel discussion of this horrific case at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, along with journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ben Montgomery, UF law professor Darren Hutchinson and UF history professor Paul Ortiz.

“Death at Dozier: Unearthing, Remedying, and Preventing Human Tragedies” will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. in UF Law’s Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom, Room 180 in Holland Hall. The event is free and open to the public and will include an audience Q&A. A webcast is also availalbe. 

Montgomery, a reporter at the “Tampa Bay Times” covered the Dozier saga in detail after learning about the work Kimmerle was doing to investigate and excavate the recently closed school.  His reporting illuminated the issue for many and allowed the victims to tell their tragic stories.

Hutchinson, who teaches constitutional law and civil rights, organized the conference. He said he believes law students should be exposed to complex social problems such as this one that implicate issues from social sciences, humanities, law and other disciplines. Hutchinson also said he hopes that this program will encourage students to use their professional training to solve and remedy the pervasive and systematic social problems that exist in the world today.

Ortiz is the Director of the Samuel Proctor History Program at UF. Ortiz’s research analyzes violent human tragedies in Florida and other parts of the Southeast. Ortiz is immensely qualified to place the Dozier school tragedy within the broader historical context of economic and racial injustice in Florida. 

For more background on the Dozier School and its tragic past, read Montgomery’s award-winning investigative series, “For Their Own Good.”

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