Researchers find more graves at former school for boys - FOX 13 News

Researchers find more graves at former school for boys

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

For 75 years, Richard Varnadoe has lived without his brother, Thomas.

"Lived my entire life practically without him," he said.

Now at the age of 83, Varnadoe hopes he lives to see the day his brother's gravesite is identified.

Two of his brothers, Hubert and Thomas were sent to Marianna School for Boys. It was 1934. Richard says they were arrested for a trumped up charge of trespassing.

"Basically they were found walking through a neighbor's backyard," Glen Varnadoe, Richard Varnadoe's nephew.

The boys arrived on September 22nd, 1934. Thirty-eight days later, Thomas was dead.

His death certificate on file with the state says he died from pneumonia. But his family says he was healthy and not sick when he left.

"This is awfully emotional for me. 75 years, he's been buried there."

They hired an attorney to stop the state from selling the property and allow USF to do their investigation.

"I want my uncle brought home and given a proper burial. And that's really what we're after. That's what this family is after."

A team of USF researchers spent months mapping a cemetery, plotting gravesites. They found at least 50 graveshafts, 19 more than state records show.

But they found them on what was called the black cemetery. Segregation meant blacks and whites were buried separately.

"So one of the open questions is, is there another cemetery? Because the cemetery that has been found was found on what was called the Black side or the north side of campus," said Antoinette Jackson, a USF cultural anthropologist.

USF anthropologist Erin Kimmerle says the school records were inconsistent. There were no good records on how many boys died there, what the cause of death was and where their graves were located.

A group of 350 men believe many of the boys were killed. They say they were beaten by school guards in a building called "The White House"

"I think the more that they find, they might have to at some point, say yeah something bad happened here," said Robert Straley.

They hope the state will allow USF to continue investigating.

"Oh yeah, absolutely, you better believe it, because that's the only way you're going to get at the truth," Straley said.

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