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Walkers cite family histories

Walk to Dorchester helps refurbish landmark

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POSTED: July 5, 2007 5:02 a.m.
As Marvin Deshazior neared Dorchester Academy during Saturday’s Walk to Dorchester fundraiser, he had one thing on his mind.
“I’m doing this for my mother. She walked 15 miles to school here until she graduated. Back then (late 1930s), they had buses, but she was black so she couldn’t ride,” he said. “So (she) had to walk, but it didn’t stop her. She still went and got an education.”
Gleaming with pride, Deshazior said his 9.2-mile trek from Riceboro’s Briar Bay Park to Dorchester in Midway, while not quite the 15 miles his mother walked, was his small way of remembering the legacy left by her and others who attended the historic school.
The proud son was not alone in reminiscing about the past, however. Acknowledging the history of Dorchester Academy was a running theme for the more than 300 walkers, runners and riders in attendance for the seventh annual Walk to Dorchester.
The event commemorates the walk African-Americans in the county took to attend classes at Dorchester Academy.
This year, it lured a number of new walkers who were drawn into participating because of the site’s history.
The school was once the only educational option available to African-Americans in the county.
“I’ve never done it before,” Alpha Kappa Alpha member Edith Wright said, surrounded by members of her sorority who walked with her. “But I knew that there was a lot of historical significance to it so I wanted to participate.”
According to Dorchester Improvement Association President Bill Austin, new and former participants are on track to bring in about $20,000 to preserve the school from years of recurring vandalism.
“We’ve winded up replacing 30 or 40 windows every other year,” Austin said. “Some of the damage has progressed into some of the historic woodwork, so that’s our concern and we want to stop that.”
The money will be supplemented with a $15,000 grant from the Liberty County Historical Society to purchase and install a 24-hour security system for the campus and protective covering for the windows of the boys’ dormitory.
A longtime local treasure, the Dorchester boys’ dormitory was an important factor during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. It was a training facility for the Citizen Education Program sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to educate thousands of mostly rural African-Americans about their legal rights and responsibilities.
The program trained thousands of teachers, who returned home to instruct others, resulting in an increase in African-Americans voter registration.
The dormitory was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks last September.
Austin said the dormitory and the work done by civil rights leaders on the campus, including Martin Luther King Jr., is playing a major role as the DIA begins planning for a special walk just a few years down the road.
“We expect our 10th to be a grand walk, hopefully to include a lot of major dignitaries and some of the civil rights leaders who actually trained at Dorchester,” he said. “We’re also going to replicate the room that (King) stayed in when he was here and visited Dorchester. We have some of the furniture still on hand from when he stayed there.”
Reflecting on the close of the seventh walk, Austin said the event was the best yet.
“Everyone spoke glowingly about the event. They enjoyed it tremendously,” he said. “We consider it a great success.” 
 

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