After 64 years, the mortal remains of a Daytona Beach teenager who died at the notorious Dozier School for Boys are finally returned home.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA BEACH – After more than six decades, one family was finally able to mourn the loss of a son and brother who never reached the age of manhood.
Billy Jackson was born on Feb. 18, 1939 in Daytona Beach. He attended all-Black Campbell Elementary School.
He died at the age of 13 at the 1,400-acre Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna – in Jackson County, northwest of Tallahassee – which operated from 1900 to 2011.
It was famous for torturing and harshly treating its juvenile occupants.
Hidden for years
Dozier occupants – all boys under the age of 18 – often suffered physical abuse, including rape, torture and severe beatings, which sometimes resulted in death. Many of these atrocities took place at the “White House,” a small building at the school.
About 300 former Dozier students formed an organization called “The White House Boys” to work to keep the legacy and stories of the victims alive. Many say that their time at Dozier reduced them to live lifetimes of violent behavior, crime, and mental health challenges.
In 2008, four former Dozier residents demanded the governor and state and federal attorneys investigate the facility. They were convinced that 32 unmarked graves at the school were the bodies of boys abused and killed decades ago.
The four men, all of whom suffered from brutal beatings while students at the school, sent letters to then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney general alleging that the boys were victims of state-sponsored hate crimes and murder.
Their goal, they said, is for “every last child, Caucasian, Hispanic and African-American who disappeared from the Florida School for Boys (to be) accounted for and, whatever relatives he may have, be given peace at last,” said Michael O’McCarthy, who resided at the school in 1958-59.
Finally, in January, a 168-page report by University of South Florida (USF) researchers was presented to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on excavations at the site. The report outlined the 51 sets of remains unearthed from an unmarked graveyard known as the Boot Hill Burial Ground, including victims of a 1914 dormitory fire. USF anthropologists identified 21 of the sets of remains through DNA and other methods.
Jackson’s body was one of those identified by researchers. His remains were shipped home last week.
Funeral services were held at R.J. Gainous Funeral Home in Daytona Beach on Aug. 13.
Beaten to death?
Jackson was at Dozier from August to October 1952. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation says that he died from a kidney infection.
But former Dozier occupants and Jackson’s family believe Jackson died following a severe beating after a third escape attempt from the place.
Johnny Walthour of Jacksonville – who died earlier this year – told the Florida Times-Union newspaper that Jackson’s stomach was bloated and bruised in October 1952 when he helped bury him.
Tortured at Dozier
During the funeral, former Dozier occupants reflected on their horrific experiences there as children.
Jerry Cooper stated, “I am one of the White House Boys. I was there with Billy Jackson. He was my brother. He was a nice boy. We called him ‘Rabbit’ because he was a runner. He ran away three times and had to go to the White House each time.
“I was told not to talk to Black boys or I would be taken to the White House across the street and whipped by a big Black man who had a belt with holes cut in it. He hit us on our backs and it tore our skin up and it stuck to our skin.”
Echoed Charlie Fudge, “I was beaten the same way as the others. I prayed a lot. I didn’t think that I was going to make it out of the school.’’
‘Come get me’
Johnny Lee Gaddy eulogized Jackson. Gaddy is now a pastor who co-authored a book titled “Dark Days of Horror at Dozier: Rapes, Murders, Beatings & Slavery,” with Antoinette Harrell.
“I was there when I was 11 years old,” Gaddy remembered. “At first, I thought it was a nice place with pretty buildings and cut grass. I had no idea that I would almost die there.
“I was called names and treated very badly. I prayed and asked God to save me. I prayed for my Mama to come get me.
“I was taken to the White House and beaten so badly by a man that looked to be 500 pounds. My white gown was bloody. I was told to hold onto the bed and don’t let go. If I did let go of the bed, the guy was going to turn me over and hit my private parts. I didn’t want that to happen.”
‘Mothers needed help’
During the funeral, family friend Roy Fletcher said, “That could have been me. When I was a little boy, I got into trouble too. I cut class in kindergarten.
“There wasn’t anything to do in Daytona. The churches weren’t involved back then. Mothers needed help. They couldn’t do it by themselves. Billy’s mom needed help.”
Ida Cummings is Jackson’s niece.
“There is some closure, but it’s still unsettling when you think of all the things done to these children,” she said.
“They preyed upon the poor and defenseless. They went after those who couldn’t fight or didn’t know how to fight for their rights. Many families faced fear and intimidation. A lot of families didn’t know what was going on with their children.
“Several gentlemen that I have spoken with that went there said that they were taken their innocently. Many said that they weren’t given trials. Judges told them they were ‘going up the road.’ Many of their families had no money,” said Cummings.
“(Billy) is back home where he always wanted to be. We are fortunate to get him back. We hope that no other families have to experience this.”
‘In bad shape’
Billy Jackson’s sister, Mattie Jackson, recalled the day the family was notified of his death.
“Mr. Wally Gatlin who ran the facility came to visit us twice. The first time, he told us that Billy was in bad shape. The second time, he told us that Billy was deceased.
“I remember Mom telling us that they killed him. I was just 8 years old. My mother was like any mother that had lost a child. What else was she to do? She was just devastated.”
Mattie Jackson said that wasn’t the last contact her family had with Dozier. Her grandson spent time in Dozier in 2009 and had his arm broken at the facility.
Cummings said, “I remember Aunt Mattie calling me and saying, ‘Please don’t let them kill him like they killed my brother.’ It brought back flashbacks and painful memories. Fortunately, he got out.
He has stories about that place too.”
Billy Jackson is survived by his sister, Mattie Jackson (Daytona Beach); two nephews: Shawn Irving (Daytona Beach) and Dawn Irving (Orlando); three nieces: Wanda Aaron (Daytona Beach), Wendy Irving (Orlando) and Ida Cummings (Washington, D.C.); and a host of great nephews, great nieces, and the White House Boys. One nephew, Vaughn Irving, preceded him in death.
Jackson was interred at Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Daytona Beach.
Florida Courier photojournalist Duane C. Fernandez Sr. contributed to this report.