It was standing room only in the main gathering hall of Midway’s Historic Dorchester Academy on Saturday as spectators gathered to get a glimpse of life in the past during the school’s annual Day at Old Dorchester fundraising event.
More than 50 volunteers and members of the Dorchester Improvement Association replicated what it was like to live and learn at the only black school in Liberty County during the 1900s.
"We want people to remember what it was like back then," board President Bill Austin said.
Some volunteers shelled peas, shucked corn and manned display booths with old artifacts and photos.
"So much has changed," said Ophelia J. Killens, 91. "Life is not as slow as it was when I came up."
Killens was Dorchester Academy’s 1938 valedictorian. She said that in addition to learning history, French, Spanish and English, students also were expected to learn life skills.
"I worked in laundry, the kitchen and in the dining room," she said. "I remember having to shell peas and shuck corn. As a matter of fact, I graduated with a diploma in waitressing."
Dorothy Lewis attended the event with her grandchildren. She said she wanted to give them a sense of yesteryear.
"We came to learn about the history," Lewis said, "to learn what they went through, so that we could have better.
"It’s very interesting and I’m glad we came."
For $1 per sample, visitors could take a trip to the school’s food court, where they could taste hand-churned ice cream, collards, chicken and black-eyed peas.
"This year, we invited the churches to participate in a cooking contest," board member Dr. Matilda Riles said. "They could enter a dish they thought might have been served to the students who attended Dorchester when it was open.
"We were truly surprised at the turnout and all the entries," she continued. "Each year, we really can’t gauge how many people will attend, but we prepare for a lot and this year we were very pleased."
Austin said money raised at the event will contribute to the DIA’s restoration projects. The school already has been awarded a $50,000 from Lowe’s Companies Inc. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Austin and Riles said that money currently is being used to restore water-damaged areas on the school’s edifice, but further funding will be needed to restore the school’s internal structure.
"The floor still needs quite a bit of work," Riles said.
Killens said she hopes the fundraising and educational efforts will continue.
"It’s important because it’s interesting to see how much life, how much this school has improved since back then," Killens said. "We’ve come a long way."