MARIANNA, Fla. (WFLA) – As a young teen, Robert Straley was sent to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Straley soon experienced the horrors many others suffered at the school.
He was taken to a building on school property and severely beaten with a leather strap. He had simply overheard another teen’s plan for an escape. The beatings and other abuse he received at the school had an impact on his entire life.
For years, no one would listen.
“When we first started this, it brought up such horrible memories. I had two repressed memories that just came out in nightmares for 40 years. so you’re living in the past and your anger and your rage comes back,” Straley said.
He is now part of a group known as the White House Boys. It’s a reference to the building where they were beaten by school staff.
For years the group has worked to expose abuse at the school, even as people in the town of Marianna denied it had ever happened.
Now people in Marianna are fighting to develop the 1,600-acre parcel of land where the school once stood.
University of South Florida anthropologists have been involved in recent years in identifying unmarked graves on school property and recovering remains from the grounds.
It’s been a difficult process. Many of the deaths were never recorded and USF has also been working to match recovered remains with families.
Straley now believes it’s time to move on.
“Well, I just gave it to God and I said, ‘I’m just going to forgive these people,’ and I said, ‘I can’t deal with this any other way,'” Straley said.
He now approves of efforts to develop the land, if the remains recovered at the school are given a proper burial. “What we are going for is a path to reconciliation between the two groups and a hope for a brighter day,” Straley added.
Senator Bill Nelson has been following efforts to recover remains at the school and expose the problems of the past. He commended Strayley for his forgiving attitude.
“I think he’s found the secret to life and for someone who was tortured and beaten as a kid, having it covered up all these years without any governmental stepping forward, that’s a major accomplishment in Robert’s life and I congratulate him,” Nelson said.