MARIANNA — Back at it on Friday, the Dozier Task Force convened for its final session, a five-hour meeting that included emotional statements from the public and sometimes heated commentary from board members, in order to formalize suggestions due soon to the Florida Cabinet.
Dozens gathered inside the Jackson County Agriculture Center and, as we reported online Friday, the end result of the day’s lengthy session was a brief list of broad recommendations from the state-formed task force. In short, the panel will suggest that state officials reinter unclaimed remains in Tallahassee, at a specific location to be determined by the legislature, and erect two monuments — one at an unnamed Jackson County site, the other at location in Tallahassee — to honor both the boys who lived and died at the now-closed reform school and those who perished in the 1914 fire there.
The majority of public comments on Friday — more than 20 signed up to speak — were from former students or relatives of former students, but a handful of the speakers were local residents.
Marianna resident Art Kimbrough, former president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Tallahassee Memory Gardens Cemetery, offered to donate space at that perpetual care facility for the reburial of unclaimed remains from the school.
“My wish, in making this offer, is simply to provide a solution that will bring lasting resolution to a problem of historic proportions for Marianna and the state of Florida,” Kimbrough said. “And in the process to help bring healing to our community and all individuals and groups involved.”
Chad Taylor, also of Marianna, took time to remind the board that on roughly 100 of the 1,400 state-owned acres where the empty school still sits is longleaf pine and wiregrass forest land that should be taken into consideration and preserved if a memorial is to be erected on the site. Taylor estimates that some of the trees are over 100 years old and he suggested a memorial forest would be a fitting part of any tribute, to serve as a scenic gateway to the City of Marianna and as a tribute to students.
Rhonda Dykes, whose great-great-grandfather and his son were adults killed in the 1914 fire at the school, returned to the task force to make a plea that her ancestors’ reburial be handled separately than that of remains associated with the investigation conducted by the University of South Florida. She asked that fire victims’ remains be reburied at their original resting place, on school grounds.
Former Dozier employee, retired teacher and coach, and activist, Elmore Bryant spoke about the negative light cast on the city by coverage of the allegations and investigation at the school.
Bryant said it bothers him that when his grandchildren watch television, see the news and ask him, “’Is Marianna bad?’”
As others in the area have done, Bryant brought up what he considered positive outcomes at Dozier, specifically regarding students who couldn’t read but eventually went on the pass the GED. He reminded the panel of previous public statements of apology and urged forgiveness going forward.
“We in Marianna want to move on,” Bryant said.
Dozier Task Force recommendations are due to the Florida Cabinet in October. More Dozier-related decisions are expected to be made during the next legislative session.