What: Announcement of Georgia site on National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2009 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Who: State Representative Al Williams
Mary Baggs, Class of 1932, Dorchester Academy
Joseph McGill, program officer, National Trust’s Southern Regional Office
Bill Austin, president of the board of directors, Dorchester Improvement Association
Cindye Jones, director, Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau
When: Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Where: Dorchester Academy
8787 E. Oglethorpe Highway
Midway, GA 31320
This annual list highlights important examples of the nation's architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
The story of Dorchester Academy, one of the earliest schools for African-Americans in Georgia and a National Historic Landmark, is forever linked to the cultural and political forces that shaped our nation's history. Founded in 1871 as a school for freed slaves, Dorchester started humbly in a one-room schoolhouse with a student body ranging in age from 8 to 80. As the school grew, boarders joined day students, many of whom walked miles to fulfill their dream of learning how to read.
In later years, the school played a pivotal role in voter-registration drives and as a center of activity for the civil rights movement.
Today, the only remaining building on the Dorchester campus, a red brick, Greek revival structure built in 1934 as a boys' dormitory, is deteriorating and structurally compromised. The community that is doing its best to nurture and sustain the academy since its earliest days does not have the financial resources to rescue the building.
"The academy, now threatened by neglect and imminent structural failure, is a national landmark for its significant role in the civil rights movement, and has been an institute for education, community development and positive political and social change since its founding day," said former President Jimmy Carter.
Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said, "The story of Dorchester Academy is not widely known, but it's a story that deserves to be told. In addition to its highly significant role as a school for generations of African-American students, Dorchester played a seminal role in the great social movements of our nation's history. We cannot afford to stand idly by and allow such a significant building to be lost."
Dorchester Academy was established by the American Missionary Association (AMA) at the urging of William A. Golding, a former slave who became a state legislator. By the 1920s, school enrollment fluctuated between 220 and 300 students, and by the 1930s, the school housed the Dorchester Cooperative Center store and credit union, which helped local residents buy homes and open businesses. When the Academy ceased operating as a school in 1940, the innovative spirit of the institution continued with the opening of a community center housed in the old boys' dormitory.
During the 1940s, the school was the site of African-American voter registrations. At the height of the civil rights movement, Dorchester Academy hosted Citizen Education Workshops sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to train grassroots leaders from all over the South and send these leaders home to instruct their neighbors about their legal rights and responsibilities.
Later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Joseph Lowery spent time at the Academy preparing for the Birmingham march, and King also wrote and practiced portions of his "I Have a Dream," speech at Dorchester Academy.
While some repair and stabilization work has been completed through the combined efforts of community donations and a $50,000 grant from the state, damage to the dormitory still extends from the roof to the basement and is compromising the structural support beams and foundation.
The cost of completely restoring the building has been estimated at $1 million-$1.5 million. The vision of the Dorchester Improvement Association is to complete this task and create a world-class museum and community facility.
The 2009 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places was made possible, in part, by a grant from History. Local preservation groups across the nation submitted nominations for this year's list; the nomination for Dorchester Academy was submitted by the Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The public is invited to learn more about what they can do to support these and hundreds of other endangered sites, experience first-hand accounts of these places, and share stories and photos of their own at www.PreservationNation.org/11Most.