Almost fifty years later, recalling the abuses in the Alabama juvenile justice system that Denny Abbott discovered and worked to end still touches him “very deeply,” Abbott told the Montgomery Advertiser.
Abbott is the author of They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children (with Douglas Kalajin), his memoir of his time working as a Montgomery juvenile probation officer and later, filing a federal suit against the state of Alabama over abuses, specifically at the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children at Mount Meigs.
In the 1960s, while many juvenile “training schools” for white children were “well run,” writes Allison Griffin for the Advertiser, “Mount Meigs, as [Abbott] saw first-hand, was not. It seemed to him to be a microcosm of the Old South: Its dilapidated buildings were ruled by self-serving whites who forced the black children who were sentenced there to do backbreaking farm work, under the guise of teaching them ‘job skills.’
“Over the next several years, Abbott would hear numerous stories of abuse and mistreatment of the children at Mount Meigs. His own observations confirmed those stories.”
A visit to Abbott’s office by five black teenagers detailing abuse lead Abbott to file complaints and ultimately take the state to court, though he was suspended from his job and ostracized by his community. Abbott was ultimately successful in having the “farm program” revised and desegregating Mount Meigs.
Later, Griffin writes, Abbott took a job working with juvenile justice centers in Florida, and later worked with “America’s Most Wanted”‘s John Walsh at the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center before Abbott retired; Walsh’s introduction begins They had No Voice.
Griffin calls They Had No Voice “very readable, filled with relatable experiences and memories; its descriptions of Montgomery will ring familiar with readers who’ve lived in the city during any time period.” Read the full feature on They Had No Voice at the Montgomery Advertiser website.