'Dozier boy' gets proper burial after 71 years

Posted at 5:53 PM, Oct 02, 2015

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

Under a small tent in a Lakeland cemetery, a family gathered in prayer to bury an 11-year-old boy.

"We therefore recommit this body to the earth. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust."

But tears of sorrow were scarce.

"Well, I did shed a few tears but they were tears of joy,” said Cherry Wilson of Lakeland.

77-year-old Cherry Wilson has been weeping for her big brother for decades.

This afternoon she was all cried out.

"I can picture him in my mind,” she said.

Which is more than most could say at the service.

Most relatives who came to bury 11-year-old Earl Wilson never even knew his face.

"No, they don't even have a picture of him. That's the baddest part. That's the baddest part,” said Earl’s nephew Wayne Wilson. "As I think about him, I think about my other uncles, I just try to put a face with, just my other uncles. What he would have looked like."

That's because Wilson died in 1944 -- a proper burial deferred until 2015 because his remains rested in an unmarked grave.

"It's been almost 71 years,” said Wayne Wilson speaking at the funeral.

Like many boys who were sent away to the Dozier School in Marianna, Florida to be wards of the state, Wilson was poor, African American and never had a judge or jury.

"He rode in the car,” his nephew said recounting the story that's been passed down in his family.

The 11-year-old allegedly rode in a stolen car driven by a friend. His family says he never came home that night, just disappeared. It wasn’t until they got a letter, they learned he died days later at Dozier from blunt force trauma to the head.

His family says the state notified them four other inmates beat him to death in a 7' by 10' building called the "Sweat House." The four were prosecuted and sent to prison.

The state shut down the Dozier School for Boys in 2011 amidst allegations of severe physical and sexual abuse.

The University of South Florida excavated more than 50 remains like Earl who met untimely their deaths at Dozier. A DNA campaign helped them match families with remains so the boys could be brought home.

"Sometimes we feel like God don't work when we want him to work. Amen. But one thing we know is he's always on time,” said a pastor at the funeral.

Donations helped the Wilson family pay for funeral costs.

"They should with every family member that went through this this tragedy, the State of Florida should step up to the plate, and compensate the families,” said Wayne Wilson.

Although you didn't see many tears.

You felt peace settle here -- peace this family's been waiting for, for a lifetime.

"I think, I might be wrong, but I think his spirit be resting,” said Cherry Wilson.