Walk to Dorchester
This past Saturday roughly 70 people walked 9.2 miles in the 20th annual Walk to Dorchester benefitting the Historic Dorchester Academy in Midway. President of the Dorchester Improvement Association and former Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin said he was happy to be able to finish the 9.2 miles which, he explained, was the average number of miles Dorchester Academy students had to walk daily to get to class.
“I’m happy to see so many of my friends and family out here celebrating this 20th year with us,” Austin said. “It’s really been a blessing, this walk. And we’ve been able to make a lot of significant improvements at the Dorchester facility as a result of this march. We are right at the precipice of creating a beautiful museum where we will be able to showcase a lot of historical facts associated with Dr. Martin Luther King’s activities out here and also celebrate the life of this school the Dorchester Academy. It is very important for the people of this area.”
Dorchester Academy was established by the American Missionary’s Association (AMA) during the 1870’s and 1880’s. In 1870, William A Golding, lead efforts to open a productive school for the freed African Americans. One of his many accomplishments was acquiring funding from the Peabody Foundation; and meeting their requirements of a minimum average enrollment of 85 students and two teachers. In 1875, a Board of Trustees was elected and a school charter established. Originally called the Homestead School, Dorchester Academy thrived under the leadership of Floyd Snelson.
Dorchester Academy would serve as the safe haven for America’s foremost Civil Right’s leaders Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, Wyatt T. Walker and others.
Dorchester Academy was the center stage for the planning of the Birmingham movement, called “Project C, “after the sight of peaceful demonstrators being attacked by police dogs and fire hoses outraged the nation. As a result, this movement would win the first major desegregation settlement in Birmingham, Ala., and give momentum to the March on Washington where Dr. King gave his famous, “I have a Dream,” speech.
“It was here that Martin Luther King organized and ran his Citizen Education Program which was key to getting more people on voter’s registration list for various towns and cities throughout the state and in Florida. Alabama and Mississippi,” Austin said. “People would come in on Sunday night and stay the entire week going through a series of lessons that they could then use to teach the people in their communities how to overcome issues with voter’s education, how to organize their personal finances and various things. And it was here where Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, who was the Chief of Staff to King, was tasked to put a plan together a plan (for the march to) Birmingham utilizing the lessons learned from the march in Albany. That plan was accepted as written leading to the Birmingham March in 1963.”
Austin said they’ve made significant improvement over the past 20 years. They’ve repaired the roof and interior so that everything is fully functional.
“We have fully restored 80 percent of the building and working on last 20 percent and now moving forward to make an interactive museum,” Austin said.
Austin said the museum displays will be interactive and historian Hermina Glass-Hill will be working on setting up the displays.
Dorchester Academy is on the list of National Historic Places and recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
“As a result of the work that Martin Luther King did in this building the Dorchester Academy was placed on the Historic Civil Rights trail in the state of Georgia and on the U. S. Civil Rights Trail,” Austin said.
Austin said the annual walk helps to raise the funds they need for the various projects still underway. He added they ‘ve also received various grants which allowed them to make many repairs and improvements. And with this year’s walk in the books, he said it’s time to start planning for next year.
“We are happy to have been able to complete this 20th year and we are going to keep going as long as people are willing to participate,” he said. “We want to give Dorchester a permanent place in history.”