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Men used as slaves, abused seek compensation

BlackNews.com | 9/18/2017, 11:08 a.m.
Peonage researcher and detective Antoinette Harrell has spent the past five years researching peonage that took place at the infamous ...
Peonage researcher Antoinette Harrell and Johnny Lee Gaddy at the Florida State Archives as they research the history of the Florida School for Boys. Walter Black Sr.

Kentwood, La. – Peonage researcher and detective Antoinette Harrell has spent the past five years researching peonage that took place at the infamous Arthur G. Dozier Reform School in Marianna, searching for a lead that could confirm that peonage practices took place in the state operated school campus.

Peonage was a system of servitude or slavery in order to pay a debt that was made illegal by Congress in 1867.

The Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier for Boys, was a reform school operated by the state of Florida in the panhandle town of Marianna from Jan. 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011. The average daily population by month showed that there were more Black boys at the school than White boys, according to Harrell’s peonage research. The school remained segregated until 1967.

Between the years 1903 and 1913, six legislative investigative committees were formed to investigate the school and found that children as young as 5 years old were shackled with irons and chains. Children were hired out for labor and unjustly beatings. In the early years of the school, the boys were hired out to work along with State of Florida convicts and forced to work with hardened criminals.

They were hired out to pick cotton on surrounding farms. In 1906, the school built a brick-making machine, which could produce 20,000 bricks per day. The students made enough bricks to sell to the residents of Marianna. Other produce and lumber was sold to people throughout the Marianna community.

In 1966, the school made $127,030.30 from the boys’ labor. The general farm produce report can be found in the Florida State Archives. Every division was reported monthly; dairy, poultry, produce, livestock, lumber and swine can be found in these monthly reports.

Two items pulled from the Farm Transfer and Sales Reports on February 1963 revealed that 10,300 feet of lumber had been sold for $669.50, and the poultry report showed that a sale of 3,180 dozen of eggs valued at $1,304.12 was sold.

The school’s sawmill was capable of turning out 5,000 feet of lumber a day. The lumber will be used in minor construction and repairs at the school, as quoted by Mr. Mitchell in the 1957 Yellow Jacket newspaper. “I saw the trucks coming in and out to pick the lumber. We stacked the lumber on the trucks and they left,” said Johnny Lee Gaddy, a former student at the school in 1957.

Harrell asked Gaddy if he knew the names of the trucking companies. Gaddy said that he did not know the names.

At the age of 12, Gaddy was driving a tractor with logs to the sawmill. He stated that Black boys as young as 6 and 7 years old were cutting heavy lumber such as two-by-fours and so forth. Once the boys cut the logs, Gaddy would haul the log to the sawmill for the Black boys to cut into lumber. He also saw the trucks and trailers coming in to pick up the lumber once it was processed.