Once again, on the third Saturday in June, people got up while it was still dark and prepared to walk.
The earliest group, the one that took the full 9-mile Walk to Dorchester, met at Briar Bay Park in Riceboro. They joined hands in prayer just before 6 a.m., then set off at 6 sharp for Dorchester Academy.
The next group, which walked 6.7 miles, met just before sunrise at First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro.
The final group gathered well after dawn had broken at Thebes AME Church in Midway and walked 1.2 miles.
This was the 16th annual Walk to Dorchester, a major fundraiser for the Dorchester Academy Improvement Association. The association’s mission is to preserve and restore the school, which opened in the 1870s to provide education for freed slaves.
Sonia Bacon, a member of the Dorchester Academy Improvement Association, said between 75 and 100 active walkers took part in this year’s event. That’s down from previous years of 200-300, she said, because of other events taking place the same day. But she said many people who do not walk send donations anyway.
“We do it because this was a place where blacks could get an education,” said association board member Sallie Mae Walthour. “Some of them walked 9 miles to school every day, so that’s where the 9 miles came in. But some persons walked farther than that.”
Bacon said Dorchester Academy served many other purposes after it ceased operations as a school in 1940. And she credited the academy with being the economic spark that led to the development of nearby communities, such as Riceboro and Midway.
It served as a community center, hosted educational meetings on finance and other topics, and even today it hosts meetings.
“I love this place,” Bacon said. “I actually first came here as a Head Start student, and just the reverence of the building intrigued me as a child. And as I got older, I would come back and visit, and I would come to some of the classes. They had everything from sewing to cooking, voter registration classes, all sorts of things. And I could see the building deteriorating, so that prompted me to get involved in wanting to help the organization.”