The sun was beginning to break through the treetops as participants tightened their shoelaces and stretched their hamstrings.
After adjusting their shoes and hoisting their water bottles, participants began their journey in the 12th annual Walk to Dorchester.
Starting in Briar Bay Park in Riceboro, walkers young and old re-traced the nine-mile journey that many of their ancestors took when they attended the only African-American school following the Civil War.
“This is the old route and the same route my grandmother Florence West took when she went to school here,” Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin said. “She went as far as the 10th grade at Dorchester. She walked this every day, and she lived to be 101 years old. She was a midwife and assisted in delivering 150 babies.”
Austin said he has participated in the walk since it started to commemorate the dedication and hardships past generations endured as they strived to better themselves and further their education. More importantly, he walks to preserve Dorchester Academy’s legacy.
“The purpose of the walk is really to draw attention to Dorchester and to raise funds to restore it,” Austin said. “It’s a national landmark and a fantastic structure. It has a lot of history. It’s important not only for the citizens of Liberty County but for the entire United States.”
Austin said folks from Miami, Ohio, and Atlanta participated in the walk this year.
Riceboro City Attorney John Pirkle, who was walking alongside Austin, pointed out food-bearing trees and bushes that children probably picked from to supplement their nourishment in their daily walk to school.
Pirkle said Dorchester Academy’s significance in the Civil Rights movement is often overlooked but one not to be forgotten.
“In the book ‘Parting the Waters’… it talks about Martin Luther King … Dorchester is mentioned in there as a site where the meetings were held for the Freedom Riders and city people and all the non-violent training was held at Dorchester,” Pirkle said. “And it just mentions Dorchester being somewhere south of Savannah. It doesn’t really give (Liberty County) credit … .but that is how important it is.”