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Walk to Dorchester 'keeps history alive'

Funds used to refurbish historic school

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POSTED: June 17, 2013 4:32 p.m.
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Walkers near the end of the 9.2-mile course from Riceboro in the Walk to Dorchester Saturday.

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More than 200 people attended the 13th annual Walk to Dorchester Saturday to re-enact a 9.2-mile trek to the Dorchester academy that students made in the pursuit of education.
Walkers started at Briar Bay Park in Riceboro and hiked to the academy in about three hours. Eight participants ran the course in a record 1 hour and 10 minutes. The event simulated the historic struggles African Americans endured to attend school.
The campus, still used today for community events, has a rich history. The American Missionary Association founded the academy in 1868 to educate newly emancipated slaves.
“The Dorchester Academy was one of the only schools at the time where African Americans could get a high school degree,” Dorchester Improvement Association President Bill Austin said. “The academy also provided the African-American community services that weren’t available to them anywhere else at the time, like a credit union and medical care.”
During the 1960s, the campus was a training ground for the civil rights movement. African Americans were bused in from throughout the South to learn about civil disobedience and voters’ rights.
“The academy played a significant part in the civil rights struggle,” Austin said.
After the Albany Movement failed to accomplish its desegregation coalition, Austin said, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization met at the academy to plan the next action in the civil rights movement.  
“The group learned from the struggles in Albany, and laid out the plan for the March on Birmingham, which ultimately ushered in legislation that guaranteed African Americans the right to vote and the right to the American dream,” Austin said.
He explained that during this time, voting wasn’t equally shared with the African American community.
“In order to qualify to vote, African Americans had to count all the jelly beans in a jar, or count all the soap bubbles in a jar … this was all to prevent us from registering to vote,” Austin said. “In 1964, the civil rights act changed this.”
This history is remembered and carried on each year for the past 13 years at the Walk to Dorchester. Because of its historic influences, the Dorchester Academy was named a national landmark in 2006 and, in September 2009, it was added to a list of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the nation.
Actions are being taken to restore and preserve the historic building. Funds raised at the 13th annual Walk to Dorchester will go to fixing the rooted flooring, repairing interior rooms of the dormitory and fixing the foundation.
“The academy is an important landmark that needs to be preserved,” Austin said. “It taught people how to overcome the roadblocks with respect to voting and being truly American.”
About $26,000 was raised at the 12th annual walk last year.  
“Walks like this keep hope alive,” said Kia Brunson, walker and Waldo Pafford teacher. “This walk helps people remember how far we came and how far we have to go.”
Brunson briskly walked the route in a little over two hours. She participated in the event because the Dorchester Academy means a lot to her and the African American community.
“This is a long route to walk to go to school every day,” she said. “This event makes us appreciate the struggles our ancestors had to go through to get an education and the hardships they went through so we don’t have to.”
Today, children may not realize how easy they have it, she added.
“We need our young people to remember that education is free now, but it wasn’t always free,” she said. “Our young people need to understand how important school is and to appreciate what they have.”
More youths participated in the walk this year than last year, and each year the event draws more attention.
“We need to keep our history alive and that’s why we walk,” Brunson said. “Even though we came along way, there’s still a ways to go … we have to keep fighting for equality and justice.”


 

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