In 1968, police arrested five Black girls dressed in oversized military fatigues in Montgomery. The girls were runaways, escaping from a state-run reform school called the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama. The girls were determined to tell someone about the abuse they’d suffered there: physical and sexual violence, unlivable facilities, and grueling labor in the fields surrounding the school. It was, as several former students called it, a slave camp.
UNREFORMED is the story of how this reform school derailed the lives of thousands of Black children in Alabama for decades and what happened after those five girls found someone willing to blow the whistle. Host Josie Duffy Rice investigates the history of the school at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement in Alabama and speaks to former students who are still haunted by their experience but had the will to survive.
Since the 1920s, notices started appearing in the local newspapers near Mt. Meigs. They said things like "Six armed negroes escaped Mount Meigs Industrial School” or “Police seeking escape artist in burglary."
In this episode, we hear about the tradition of running away at Mt. Meigs. Lonnie tells us about his experience running away and the harrowing consequences that led him to spend months on the rock pile.
By the 1960s, the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children was an early prototype of the for-profit prison. But it wasn’t designed that way. In this episode, we go back to the early 20th century when a Black woman and student of Booker T. Washington named Cornelia Bowen founded Mt. Meigs. She envisioned a safe haven for Black kids who weren’t being served by the state of Alabama and believed in reform through industrial education...
Survivors of Mt. Meigs share how they ended up in the juvenile justice system and what happened once they went down the long road to the reformatory. Lonnie and Johnny meet the foreboding superintendent EB Holloway, while Mary and Jennie must deal with the girls’ matron, Fannie B. Matthews.
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Reporter Josie Duffy Rice travels to a small town outside Montgomery, Alabama, and tries to visit a juvenile reform school, once called the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children. The school opened in the early 20th century as a safe haven for Black kids, but by the 1960s, it had become something else entirely.
Then one day, in 1968, five Black girls ran away, determined to find someone to help. We hear from one of those girls, Mary, and juvenile probation officer Denny...