Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Richard Pacelle, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, to find some answers.
Roger Dean Kiser was 12 years old when he was first sent to the Florida School for Boys in Marianna. That was in 1959.
The state-run reform school became the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
“You don’t see, hear or say anything. And if you do, they’re going to get you, and they’re liable to beat you to death.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, former residents say they were beaten and some of their friends were killed.
“The first thing I noticed is men would come into the dorms at night and the boys would be taken out,” Kiser told Here & Now. “Some would never come back.”
Kiser says he was brutally beaten, witnessed rapes of boys by staff, saw boys taken to be beaten who never returned and even witnessed the death of one boy.
“I’ve only been able to describe it almost as a concentration camp,” Kiser said. “You have to be very careful — you don’t see, hear or say anything. And if you do, they’re going to get you, and they’re liable to beat you to death or you’re liable to disappear in the middle of the night.”
Kiser says the title of his 2009 book, “The White House Boys: An American Tragedy,” refers to the small building where boys were brought to be beaten.
The Dozier School was closed in 2011, but questions remain as to how many of the “disappeared” boys are buried on the school grounds.
Researchers have found evidence of nearly 100 bodies buried on the property.
Earlier this month, the Florida legislature approved the exhumation of the bodies. The digging is slated to begin Labor Day weekend.
Kiser said the “disappeared” boys will finally be reunited with their families and receive proper burials.
“I think the governor, the state of Florida, owes every one of these boys a public apology,” he said.