MARIANNA, Fla. (WFLA) – Aging men, who were once tortured as children at the former Dozier school for boys, are upset about a plan to redevelop the property.
They want to preserve the building where they were once beaten that is known as the “White House”.
Robert Straley is part of a group of men called “The White House Boys”.
“It’s the building itself that has an atmosphere. It really does,” said Straley.
In 1963, Straley was sent to Dozier as a 13-year-old for a minor offense.
Like many, he was beaten inside the White House.
Now, Straley is worried because the residents of Marianna want to tear down all of the remaining buildings on the property as part of a redevelopment plan.
“If they tear it down, then they’re going to say it was never there to begin with,” said Straley.
He wants the building to stand as a reminder.
“The main thing is, I want the White House to stay there and be used as a museum. They could cut that piece of property, it isn’t even an acre,” said Straley.
Jerry Cooper is the president of an organization that calls itself “The Official White House Boys.”
He has a very different opinion about the building.
Cooper recently wrote a letter to Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet asking that the building be torn down.
“This building represents the worst kind of evil that could be inflicted upon children and should not be allowed to stand in place any more,” said Cooper in his letter.
“We feel we should be the ones who should bring down this building down for what it represents to us. It would bring some closure to all of us, including myself, if you would honor our request. The damage that was done to us in this place which included severe physical damage, mental, and emotional problems, which will never heal. We will all take this to our grave,and many have already.
This building was also used to sexually abuse many of the younger boys who were totally defenseless in stopping these terrible acts. We know that some of these beatings most likely led to some of the boys’ deaths, and there is no doubt to us about this.”
When asked about the controversy, Governor Scott acknowledged it’s a difficult issue.
“First off, when you hear about that, your heart goes out to the people that were impacted there and then their families. I think for me, the most important thing is to take care of those families,” said Scott.
The governor stopped short of saying if he believes the building should be torn down or preserved.
Residents and business owners in the Town of Marianna have formed a task force to explore the issue.