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The integration of schools in Liberty County
Gary Gilliard
District 5 Board of Commissioner Gary Gilliard remembers the beginning of integration between schools in Liberty County during the Civil Rights Era. - photo by Asha Gilbert

In the 1870’s the Dorchester Academy was opened in the city of Midway to provide education to freed slaves. Called the “College of Liberty County” the academy would go on to challenge the illegal voting tests and enabled thousands of minorities so they could vote, according to

Entering into the Civil Rights Era, Dorchester Academy was a safe haven for Civil Rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and others. District 5 Board of Commissioner Gary Gilliard remembers hearing stories of Martin Luther King playing baseball at Dorchester Academy and the beginning of integration in public schools.

“I was born right here in Liberty County in 1956,” Gilliard said. “I started elementary school at Hineshaw Elementary and we lived on Rebecca Street in government housing.”

Gilliard said when he started elementary school, schools were not yet integrated. However in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.

“I was in the third grade when it was integrated and legal to go to any school,” Gilliard said. “A good friend of mine, Charlie Burley, lived right around the corner from a white elementary school and he went there.”

“Because the schools were integrated in 1964, Charlie went to the white schools and we stayed to the black schools and remained segregated even though schools were integrated,” Gilliard said.

Gilliard said in 1970 Liberty County began to force integration and everyone west of the Seaboard Coastline Railroad went to the old Bradwell High School and everyone east went to the old Liberty High School.

“I never saw racism because of the side of town we lived on,” Gilliard said. “I do remember when I was 10 or 11 at night pickup trucks full of white boys would drive down the street shouting racial slurs and one night they stopped and shot the street light with a shot gun.”

He said that Hinesville was very much segregated and he would stay on his side town. In the 9th grade he experienced his first white teacher and sat in the classroom with white students.

During 1977, Liberty County Board of Education Chair Lily Baker began to teach at Hinesville Middle School in Liberty County. She said her principals were always Caucasian but they would come together for the students.

“During that time we worked together and had a very good principal, of course you had your challenges with children but we always worked together for the betterment of the children,” Baker said. “For these children in 1977 most of their schooling had been together since the integration in 1970 and didn’t know the difference.”

Baker said she didn’t remember any name calling amongst the children or any issues due to race.

“I never recalled even when we integrated the schools being called the N-word, and I’m quite sure just like today if I’m called the N-word it is behind my back which is the best time to do that,” Gilliard said. “The Civil Rights struggles that Martin Luther King went through, it takes a special person to do that.”

Next week we will talk to black leaders who are making a difference in the community.

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