- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Senate apologized Wednesday for decades of abuse at a reform school, an acknowledgement several victims watching from the public gallery waited decades to hear.

The Senate unanimously approved the resolution after its sponsor described some of the horrors that happened at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where more than 90 boys died and others were beaten and raped.

“The Senate regrets the treatment of children at Dozier School for Boys, that it was cruel, unjust and a violation of human decency and acknowledges this shameful past of our state’s history,” said Democrat Sen. Darryl Rouson said. “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.”

Rouson called out the names the men in the gallery who were abused at the school and each stood. The senators turned and applauded them as the resolution was adopted.

A group called The White House Boys, named after the small building where boys were taken to be beaten, formed about a decade ago to try to get the state to acknowledge the abuses at the school, which was open from 1900 to 2011. The group started out small and grew larger. Rouson said more than 500 men have come forward about abuses they endured in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

“It started out with four of us standing on the Capitol steps asking the governor and the attorney general to investigate this,” said Bryant Middleton, who was at the school from 1959 to 1961.

“After a 10-year period, the things that we spoke of, the items that we mentioned, the brutality, the beatings the death, all came to fruition,” he said. “We spoke out and the truth bears what we said. We finally got justice and that’s a good thing, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The House issued a similar apology last week, and also has a bill to create two monuments acknowledging the abuse, one at the Capitol and one in Marianna, the town 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of state capital. While the Senate doesn’t have a similar bill, Robert Staley said the monuments are important because there needs to be a lasting reminder that such abuse should never happen again.

“Those monuments mean everything. Without that, this would end up on a dusty shelf,” said Straley, 70, who was beaten and raped at the school when he was 13.

The University of South Florida recently exhumed the remains of 51 bodies in hopes of identifying boys buried in unmarked graves.

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