Read the True Story behind Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys in The Dozier School for Boys

by Shaina Olmanson, Associate Editorial Director, Twenty-First Century Books

Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Nickel Boys, came out this month, a fictional story based on the Dozier School for Boys in Florida. Whitehead’s novel follows one wrongfully indicted boy and the abuse experienced at a school modeled after Dozier. In her forthcoming Twenty-First Century Books title, The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, Survivors, and a Painful Past, forensic scientist and author Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray investigates the school’s history, detailing stories by survivors, as well as digging into the forensic anthropology of the graves and skeletons found on the grounds. This true crime report looks at the institutional abuse that occurred at Dozier and seeks to uncover the facts of why and how this happened for so long.

Opened as the Florida State Reform School on January 1, 1900, the school went through a variety of name and administration changes until being renamed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys following the former superintendent’s death. The school closed in 2011 after 111 years of operation after a Department of Justice investigation substantiated allegations of routine abuse and killings made by the survivors of the school.

Murray looks at survivors’ accounts of the torture, rape, and abuse they received at the hands of school administration and employees rather than reform and education. Between 1900 and 1973, nearly 100 children between the ages of six and eighteen died at the Dozier School for Boys. Because of the Department of Justice investigation, University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle and her team started investigating the school’s records and cemetery. In the cemetery, there were thirty-one grave markers. However, Kimmerle and her team found fifty-five graves and fifty-one skeletons, none directly under the grave markers. Read how criminal science and technology is used to piece together a still unfolding truth of how these skeletons ended up there and who those students were.

More posts by Shaina.

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