You Can See Me Now – In The Movies

Back before digital photography, the Film used in professional level cameras had distinct qualities in terms of color rendition. Certain types of Kodak tended towards blue, others were “warm” – enriching the reds and yellows. This meant if you were shooting anything with blue, the sky for instance – the rendition was spectacular. Browns and greens tended to be “muddy” and tonal quality – the differentiation between something with multiple greens for instance – tended to wash out into a “middling” color instead of the full spectrum. Fuji Film tended towards yellow, and produced really vibrant greens and, to a lesser extent browns…

Ergo – getting film to “see” black folks, or even render the plethora of skin tones was difficult, if not impossible. Getting fine detail was virtually impossible for darker skin tones.

Since similar film formulations were used to make movies – black folks just all came out as the same color – if you could see an detail at all.

‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Mother of George,’ and the aesthetic politics of filming black skin

In one of the first scenes of early Oscar favorite “12 Years a Slave,” the film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor , is seen at night, sleeping alongside a fellow enslaved servant. Their faces are barely illuminated against the velvety black background, but the subtle differences in their complexions — his a burnished mahogany, hers bearing a lighter, more yellow cast — are clearly defined.

Mother of George,” which like “12 Years a Slave” opens on Friday, takes place in modern-day Brooklyn, not the candlelit world of 19th-century Louisiana. But, like “12 Years a Slave,” its black stars and supporting players are exquisitely lit, their blue-black skin tones sharply contrasting with the African textiles they wear to create a vibrant tableau of textures and hues.

“Mother of George” and “12 Years a Slave” are just the most recent in a remarkable run of films this year by and about African Americans, films that range in genre from the urban realism of “Fruitvale Station” and light romantic comedy of “Baggage Claim” to the high-gloss historic drama of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and the evocatively gritty pot comedy “Newlyweeds.” The diversity of these films isn’t reflected just in their stories and characters, but in the wide range of skin tones they represent, from the deepest ebonies to the creamiest caramels.

The fact that audiences are seeing such a varied, nuanced spectrum of black faces isn’t just a matter of poetics, but politics — and the advent of digital filmmaking. For the first hundred years of cinema, when images were captured on celluloid and processed photochemically, disregard for black skin and its subtle shadings was inscribed in the technology itself, from how film-stock emulsions and light meters were calibrated, to the models used as standards for adjusting color and tone.

That embedded racism extended into the aesthetics of the medium itself, which from its very beginnings was predicated on the denigration and erasure of the black body. As far back as “The Birth of a Nation” — in which white actors wearing blackface depicted Reconstruction-era blacks as wild-eyed rapists and corrupt politicians — the technology and grammar of cinema and photography have been centered on the unspoken assumption that their rightful subjects would be white.

The result was that, if black people were visible at all, their images would often be painfully caricatured (see Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With the Wind”) or otherwise distorted, either ashy and washed-out or featureless points of contrast within the frame. As “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen said in Toronto after the film’s premiere there, “I remember growing up and seeing Sidney Poitier sweating next to Rod Steiger in ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ and obviously [that was because] it’s very hot in the South. But also he was sweating because he had tons of light thrown on him, because the film stock wasn’t sensitive enough for black skin.”

Montré Aza Missouri, an assistant professor in film at Howard University, recalls being told by one of her instructors in London that “if you found yourself in the ‘unfortunate situation’ of shooting on the ‘Dark Continent,’ and if you’re shooting dark-skinned people, then you should rub Vaseline on their skin in order to reflect light. It was never an issue of questioning the technology.” In her classes at Howard, Missouri says, “I talk to my students about the idea that the tools used to make film, the science of it, are not racially neutral.”

Missouri reminds her students that the sensors used in light meters have been calibrated for white skin; rather than resorting to the offensive Vaseline solution, they need to manage the built-in bias of their instruments, in this case opening their cameras’ apertures one or two stops to allow more light through the lens. Filmmakers working with celluloid also need to take into account that most American film stocks weren’t manufactured with a sensitive enough dynamic range to capture a variety of dark skin tones. Even the female models whose images are used as reference points for color balance and tonal density during film processing — commonly called “China Girls” — were, until the mid-1990s, historically white.

In the face of such technological chauvinism, filmmakers have been forced to come up with workarounds, including those lights thrown on Poitier and a variety of gels, scrims and filters. But today, such workarounds have been rendered virtually obsolete by the advent of digital cinematography, which allows filmmakers much more flexibility both in capturing images and manipulating them during post-production.

Cinematographer Anastas Michos recalls filming “Freedomland” with Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, whose dramatically different complexions presented a challenge when they were in the same shot. “You had Julianne Moore, who has minus pigment in her skin, and Sam, who’s a dark-skinned guy. It was a photographic challenge to bring out the undertones in both of them.”

Michos solved the problem during a phase of post-production called the digital intermediate, during which the film print is digitized, then manipulated and fine-tuned. “You’re now able to isolate specific skin tones in terms of both brightness and color,” says Michos, who also shot “Baggage Claim,” “Jumping the Broom” and “Black Nativity,” due out later this year. “It gives you a little bit more flexibility in terms of how you paint the frame.”

Daniel Patterson, who shot “Newlyweeds” on a digital Red One camera, agrees, noting that on a recent shoot for Spike Lee’s “Da Blood of Jesus,” he was able to photograph black actors of dramatically different skin tones in a nighttime interior scene using just everyday house lamps, thanks to a sophisticated digital camera. “I just changed the wattage of the bulb, used a dimmer, and I didn’t have to use any film lights. That kind of blew me away,” Patterson says. “The camera was able to hold both of them during the scene without any issues.”

The multicultural realities films increasingly reflect go hand in hand with the advent of technology that’s finally able to capture them with accuracy and sensitivity. And on the forefront of this new vanguard is cinematographer and Howard University graduate Bradford Young , the latest in a long line of Howard alums — including Ernest Dickerson, Arthur Jafa and Malik Sayeed — who throughout the 1990s deployed the means of production to bring new forms of lyricism, stylization and depth to filmed images of African Americans….

Nations Oldest Park Ranger Words of Wisdom

This is awesome!

If you are over 55 and grew up in the Southern US – you more than likely remember segregation and Jim Crow having lived through the last parts of it. Ranger Soskin at 92 years of age has seen much of the change in this country starting before WWII. Her insights are fascinating…

Nation’s oldest full-time park ranger, from California, furloughed

The nation’s oldest full-time national park ranger, who works at the  Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif., recently joined the ranks of the furloughed because of the ongoing U.S. government shutdown.

Betty Reid Soskin, 92, is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Northern California.

“At 92, I am very sensitive to the passage of time. We learned about the furlough gradually,” Soskin said told the Associated Press last week. “When it came at midnight (on) October 1, it seemed like a major interruption in my life because I don’t have time and these young folks were wasting my time, precious time.”

To make matters worse for Soskin, California officials refused Friday to use state money to open national parks, which means no reprieve for Soskin.

Soskin works three days a week as a tour guide and two days in the administrative office at the park that honors not only the famous Rosie but also tells the story of the home front during WWII.

Soskin became a park ranger seven years ago and leads tours at the park and museum that honors the women who worked in factories during wartime.But that all changed last week when the government shut down.

“It was like hitting a wall to come out from under my hat and back into civvies,” Soskin said.

She said she feels uncertain when she watches the developments between lawmakers in Washington, D.C., unfold on television.

“There are times when I feel like the only grown-up in the room. It’s a little disconcerting to feel like no one’s in charge. That’s the feeling I have when I watch the news,” Soskin said. “There are not enough wiser heads in Washington to determine where we should go. That uncertainty is unnerving.”

The National Park Service confirms that Soskin is the oldest full-time park ranger. At 93, Lyle Ruterbories, who works at Glacier National Park in Kintla Lake, Mont., near the U.S. and Canadian border, is the oldest seasonal ranger the park service is aware of, park service spokesman Jeff Olson told the AP this week.

The Invisible Man Banned in North Carolina…

The long standing problem with conservatism is the belief that striking a bell from the right will stop if from ringing. If it rings, the solution to achieve the desired goal of striking the bell without it ringing is to strike it further from the right.

There are obviously some folks on the school board down there in North Carolina who haven’t enjoyed the benefit of an education.

Invisible Man Banned: Ralph Ellison’s Landmark Novel Banned From School Libraries

A lack of “literary value” has apparently left Ralph Ellison’s landmark 1952 novel, Invisible Man banned from school libraries in Randolph County, N.C., the Asheboro Courier-Tribune reports.

According to the Tribune, a parent of an eleventh grader wrote the school district expressing her disapproval of the book’s availability to students stating:

The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.As the school district’s policy requires, the parent’s complaints lead to votes on the school and district levels. Both held that the book should remain available to students in the library. However, in a 5-2 vote, the school board voted to ban the book, with one board member, Gary Mason, stating, “I didn’t find any literary value.”

Mason’s blunt assessment however, runs counter to decades of intellectual criticism of the novel, which won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction, beating out Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

In 1995, writing for the New York Times, Roger Rosenblatt praised the novel as a masterpiece.

“Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” which won the National Book Award in 1953, was instantly recognized as a masterpiece, a novel that captured the grim realities of racial discrimination as no book had, ” Rosenblatt wrote. “Its reputation grew as Ellison retreated into a mythic literary silence that made his one achievement definitive.”

Including the book in its list of 100 Best English Language Novels since 1923, Time literary critic Lev Grossman also expressed great admiration for Ellison’s work.

“Evenhandedly exposing the hypocrisies and stereotypes of all comers, Invisible Man is far more than a race novel, or even a bildungsroman. It’s the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.”

Still, this kind of high praise wasn’t enough to prevent the book from being banned from school libraries in Randolph County, N.C.

Condo Remembers Denise McNair, 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963

Interesting – because prior to now, I don’t remember seeing anywhere that Condo talked about any of this. Condo’s father was not in the Civil Rights Movement, choosing instead to take a back seat. The ethics of that are up to debate…

As well as Condo’s ethics in working for the Bush Administration. While I don’t believe there is any evidence that GW is a bigot, there is more than a little evidence that some of the folks he brought to Washington were and are. The nuances of whether she could have done more not taking the job, or accomplished more by taking the job are also open to debate. Calling Condo a latter day Hattie McDaniels is unfair. Calling her a failure because of her role in a failed Presidency..isn’t.

I think this reaction is because of he Trayvon Martin murder. Like the George Zimmerman trial, initial efforts to convict the murderers were stymied, with the first conviction not coming for another 14 years, with others not being convicted until 30 years later. Justice in some parts of America moves much more slowly for some people.

American actress Hattie McDaniel (1895 – 1952) with her Academy Award of Merit for Outstanding Achievement, circa 1945. McDaniel won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in ‘Gone With The Wind’, making her the first African-American to win an Academy Award.

Condoleezza Rice Recalls Birmingham Bombing That Killed Childhood Friend

When a church bombing killed four young black girls on a quiet Sunday morning in 1963, life for a young Condoleezza Rice changed forever.

The racial attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church, in the former secretary of state’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, rocked the nation and led to sweeping changes in laws governing civil rights.

But for Rice, just 8 years old at the time, the tragedy meant the death of a little girl she used to play dolls with, and the loss of her own youthful sense of security.

“As an 8-year-old, you don’t think about terror of this kind,” said Rice, who recounted on Friday her memory of the bombing and its aftermath in remarks to a gathering of civic leaders in Birmingham as part of several days of events leading up to the 50th anniversary of the bombing on Sept. 15.

Rice’s hometown had become a place too dangerous for black children to leave their own neighborhoods, or go downtown and visit Santa Claus, or go out of the house after dark.

“There was no sanctuary. There was no place really safe,” she said.

Rice’s friend, 11-year-old Denise McNair, died in the blast along with 14-year-olds Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley. Their deaths at the hands of Ku Klux Klan members garnered national support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Events for the 50th anniversary of the bombing will include a screening of filmmaker Spike Lee’s new documentary, “Four Little Girls,” and a memorial service on Sunday scheduled to include U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Rice has a treasured photo of her friend accepting a kindergarten certificate from Rice’s father, who was a pastor at another church. McNair had gone to preschool there. McNair’s father was the community photographer, documenting birthday parties and weddings in happier times.

“Everyone in the black community knew one of those girls,” Rice said.

Her father told her the bombing had been done by “hateful men,” she said, but it was an act that later uncovered something ultimately good.

“Out of great tragedy, people began to recognize our humanity, and it brought people together,” said Rice.

The bombing left its mark on her even as an adult, when as U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, she used the experience to understand the plight of Palestinian and Israeli victims of bombs and attacks during peace negotiations.

“I told them I know what it is like for a Palestinian mother, who has to tell her child they can’t go somewhere,” Rice said, “and how it is for an Israeli mother, who puts her child to bed and wonders if the child will be alive in the morning.”

But with all of the progress made in civil rights during the 50 years since the blast, Rice cites education as the biggest impediment to equality in modern times.

She expressed dismay at racial disparities in the quality of education for minorities and criticized the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in a system she said challenges black students less than others.

“Even racism can’t be an excuse for not educating our kids,” she said. “If a kid cannot read, that kid is done. A child in a bad school doesn’t have time for racism to be eradicated. They have to learn today.”

A Stained Glass window in the 16th Street Baptist Church after the bombing.

Oscar Alert! – 12 Years a Slave

This one has the Film Critics atwitter after the Toronto Film Festival. It is a film depiction of the true story of Solomon Northup, born a free man, who was abducted and enslaved in the pre-Civil War US.  Unlike the fictitious Django – the film is based on a book on the real-life experiences of the author, Solomon Northup, by the same name. The book is the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington D.C in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.

The other big plus to this one, is that it sticks to historical truth – unlike The Butler, where the Director chose to “spice up” the story, having the central character born in Georgia – instead of Virginia. Met Mr Allen at a Christmas Party at the White House in 1976. I remember him distinctly because of being introduced by a family friend ho was a chef there – and a conversation about the “honesty” and racial feelings of the various Presidents he had served under to that time with the Master chef. Now – gay people may have “gaydar” – but black folks have “racedar” – that is reading the body language and reactions of a white person they interact with. One of the things Allen said was to keep an eye on whether when then new President Carter came downstairs to greet the staff, whether he looked them in the eye while shaking hands (or even shook their hands, which Nixon would not do). He then went on to say that despite the common belief that Eisenhower hated black folks – when he shook your hand he looked you straight in the eye regardless of race. which said a lot more about the man than any Monday morning quarterbacks in the press. I broke into the conversation and asked him which did… And which didn’t. He told me a story totally confounding my then 70’s belief set.

I think back on that brief conversation and recall a quote from Martin Luther King…

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

I wish the movie was about that.

And unlike the movie – NO –  Ronald Reagan was no racist. Although unfortunately several of his senior staff, like Ed Meese, were sheet wearers.

TIFF 13: Did Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ just change the game?

TORONTO — Brad Pitt didn’t say much during the question-and-answer session that followed the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “12 Years a Slave” on Friday night, just a short comment on why he produced and co-starred in the Steve McQueen period drama.

But, like his turn as an abolitionist-minded maverick amid a group of brutal slaveowners, Pitt spoke volumes as he stood on the stage with cast and filmmakers. “If I never get to participate in a film again,” he said, his voice trailing off as if to imply this would be enough, “this is it for me,” he finally finished.

It’s a sentiment you could imagine the lead cast members –Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and of course Chiwetel Eijiofor, standing out amid the standouts — sharing with Pitt. And it’s a sentiment you could imagine the audience feeling. Festivals come and go; movies rise and fade. But once in a great while there’s a film that feels almost instantly, in the room, like it’s going to endure, and change plenty of things along the way. And “12 Years” offers that feeling.

Director Steve McQueen (r) and co-Lead Actor Michael Fassbender (l).

Most narrowly, that’s true on Oscar level. By 9 p.m. Friday night, just six days into September, the film had already become a top contender for various acting, writing and directing prizes, as well as the big prize. You could say that’s premature. But you probably wouldn’t if you sat in the room. (Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan certainly didn’t hold back.)

It’s equally true on a social level. “12 Years” tells the fact-based story of Solomon Northup (Eijiofor), a free man who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and his travails — at once horrifying and surprising, no matter how much you think you’re ready for them — when he is trafficked to a series of Southern plantations for more than a decade.

The movie has many of the hallmarks McQueen has become known for — the meticulous composition, the bold and haunting sequences — but, far more than previous films “Hunger” and“Shame,” it has a galvanizing topicality. (For more on “12 Years” and how it was made see my colleague John Horn’s excellent piece in the Sunday Times.)

It also has the kind of bracing honesty that has always been rare in Hollywood and is even rarer these days, a Hollywood where, if tough issues are taken on at all, it’s under the garb of respectful period drama or easy sentiment.

Slavery is pretty much at the top of that list of tough issues. With films like “Django Unchained” and “Lincoln,“ the subject has have become slightly less taboo in the past few years — but only slightly.“Roots” broke new ground on TV more than three decades ago, yet few have followed in its path. McQueen is finally willing to pick up the trail.

But maybe that feeling of change was most apparent because the movie went beyond its ostensible subject of race and the fight for emancipation. After the screening, several people I was sitting near began comparing the movie, favorably, to other films about race. A worthwhile comparison. But the film also evoked parallels to a more unexpected movie, “Schindler’s List.” Exactly 20 years ago that film paired impressive filmmaking with a wrenching subject, and in so doing achieved something remarkable — used cinema to change the way we view a cataclysmic period we thought we knew. “12 Years” has the  power to do the same thing.

As this movie rolls out this fall, people will talk about the questions it raises, about the evolution of race relations, about what it’s saying on the matter of slavery, whether nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War there is resolution or closure, whether there can ever be resolution or closure.

And there will be, inevitably, a backlash, people who will question the choices McQueen made, will scrutinize whether this detail softpedals the history or that detail overplays it, whether he went too far or not far enough, whether he fetishizes too much or too little.

Mostly, people will talk about slavery in a way they haven’t before because by seeing the film they’ll experience it in a way they never have before. McQueen on Friday summed up his reason for making a movie about slavery thusly: “For me it was a no-brainer. I just wanted to see it on film. I wanted to see that history on film. It was important. It was that obvious. And that’s it,” he said, putting a period on the sentence. But the conversation is only just beginning.

BTx3 is going to see this one. This one strikes a personal chord as part of my own family fought re-enslavement after the Revolutionary War for near 50 years. While no letters or material from those family members still exist (although there are a few pictures), there is ample evidence in court documents from 1790 through 1840 which document the trail… Including 4 court cases where slavers tried to claim various members of he family were escaped slaves. A decades long struggle which by a bit more than just local legend included several killings.

FAMU Marching 100 Return

The Marching 100 returned yesterday to a Half Time show between FAMU and Mississippi Valley State. It’s reputation as one of the elite Marching Band units at the College level is sadly tarnished, and it’s reputation as an HBCU tradition is at it’s lowest point. Hopefully the new School President, Band Leader, and students can return the unit, and the traditions it represented before the scandal back to the heights the band once enjoyed.

FAMU band makes first appearance in nearly two years after hazing incident

Twenty-two months after Florida A&M University’s band was suspended in the wake of a hazing death of a drum major, it was back on the field Saturday, performing at the season-opener against Mississippi Valley State.

The Marching 100 was not allowed to perform after Robert Champion collapsed and died after a hazing ritual on a bus in November 2011. That suspension was lifted in June, after the resignation of the band’s longtime director and the university president.

The scandal resulted in charges of manslaughter and felony hazing being placed against 15 former band members. Seven have made plea deals, another has a deal but has not been sentenced and the other seven await trial, according to the Associated Press.

The parents of the hazing victim, who have filed wrongful death lawsuits against FAMU and the bus company, told the AP that they believed the return of the band was “too soon.”

“I don’t see anything that’s different to ensure the safety of those students,” Pam Champion said. “Everything that has been put in place is not something that was done voluntarily.”

Larry Robinson, the university’s interim president, announced the decision to strike up the band, saying it would be “a model of excellence for other bands across this nation. It will actually focus on its founding principles of character, academics, leadership, marching and service.”

On Saturday, the band was back on the field at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.

Notorious Florida “Reform” School, Jim Crow… and Dead Boys

 

 

Many of the boys sent to the Dozier School for Boys were black. Caught up in Florida’s Jim Crow justice system of the time.

Florida to exhume remains found at notorious Dozier School for Boys

Investigators have been given permission to exhume remains found at the notorious Arthur G Dozier School for Boys in Florida, which closed in 2011 following pupils’ revelations of widespread physical and sexual abuse.

Governor Rick Scott and the rest of Florida’s cabinet voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow dozens of unmarked graves found in woods near the school to be opened up. The decision comes after a team of researchers found evidence of almost 100 deaths at the institution.

“We are not exactly sure what happened there, but we know it was not good,” Florida attorney general Pam Bondi said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s something we as Floridians can’t ignore.”

The University of South Florida was commissioned to look into deaths at the Dozier School, in the panhandle city of Marianna after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the presence of 31 grave sites in 2010.

A “funeral” for one of the black inmates

A team of anthropologists and archaeologists found that 45 people had been buried on school grounds between 1914 and 1952, with 31 bodies sent elsewhere for burial. There were 22 more cases in which no burial site was listed.

Of the 98 deaths they confirmed, two were adult staff members and the rest children aged from six to 18.

Many of the graves were unmarked and had been lost in the woods under brush and trees.

Human bones found in dig at notorious Dozier reform school in Florida

Teams of searchers recovered human bones from the sands of Florida Panhandle woodlands on Saturday in a “boot hill” graveyard where juveniles who disappeared from a notorious reform school more than a half-century ago are believed to have been secretly buried.

“We have found evidence of burial hardware – hinges on coffins,” said Dr. Christian Wells, an anthropologist from the University of South Florida, in a briefing about a mile from the closed excavation site near the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

“There appear to be a few pieces associated with burial shrouds, and there are pins consistent with the 1920s and 1930s, – based on the style of the pins – and they appear to be brass,” he said.

Some “large-bone fragments” were found on the first day of digging, Wells said. They were human bones, he added, but it was impossible to know if they came from any of the teenaged boys who were housed at Dozier during its infamous 111-year existence. The school was closed in mid-2011.

The notorious Whitehouse where boys were taken to be systematically beaten and sexually abused by school staff.

The bones will be examined in laboratories at the University of South Florida and the University of North Texas, as part of a program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and state of Florida.

After forensic investigators, using ground-piercing radar and old public records, detected 31 spots showing possible human remains, researchers planted crude white crosses on a nearby hillside to commemorate the unaccounted-for boys.

Some former residents of Dozier, now in their 60s and 70s, have told of brutal beatings and boys – mostly black juveniles – disappearing without explanation more than 50 years ago. Blood relatives of some of the boys have given DNA samples, to be matched against evidence taken from the skeletal remains.

Earlier on Saturday, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist from USF, met with some family members and survivors.

“We’re approaching it much like you would an archeological excavation,” Kimmerle said. “It’s all done carefully and by hand.”

‘Never had a chance’
Tananarive Due, who came to the dig with some family members, said her great-uncle, Robert Stephens, died at the school in 1937.

“The story was … he tried to run away at one point,” she said. “The official cause of death was a stabbing by another inmate, that’s what it was listed as. But with so many of these boys, who knows how they died? Their families never had a chance to say ‘good-bye’ to their loved ones.”

Johnny Lee Gaddy, 67, said he was locked up from 1957 to 1961 for truancy. He said he was severely beaten, but in his teens became a good farm worker, hoping to get released.

Gaddy said he had heard of teens disappearing without explanation.

“I know some they said went home, but they hadn’t been here long enough to go home,” Gaddy said. “They said some others ran away or were transferred to other places. We never saw any bodies or funerals.”

According to Florida State records, all boys which died at the Dozier School were buried in the same Cemetery. In reality, black children who were killed by the guards or died by accident were buried in unmarked graves on other parts of the property.

John Due, father of Tananarive, said descendants and civil-rights activists who pressed the state for disclosure of what happened to the young men ran into rigid resistance from authorities for decades.

“People didn’t want to talk about it, and we found that particularly among black families,” he said. “That’s what racism does. It beats you down and you think you don’t matter, so you won’t speak up.”

The forensic teams will work through Tuesday. Remains that can be identified will be re-interred at family plots and any unidentified remains will be numbered and buried – with records kept for later return to families, if any come forward.

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