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Locals hope endangered listing helps Dorchester
Mary L. Baggs and the Rev. J.C Shipman chat Tuesday on Dorchester Academy’s lawn. Baggs, Shipman and other community members gathered to celebrate the National Trust’s declaration of Dorchester Academy in Midway as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. - photo by Photo by Lauren Hunsberger
Mary L. Baggs, valedictorian of the 1932 graduating class of Dorchester Academy, had a front-row seat as representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation stood on the steps of her beloved alma mater and offered their hand in partnership with the Dorchester Improvement Association to save the site.  
On Tuesday morning, at 98 years old, Baggs’ lifelong dream began to come true.
“Ms. Baggs is the matriarch of Dorchester Academy,” state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said during his speech about the significance of the building, Baggs’ presence and the newly formed partnership.
Listening to stories about the old school and the many historical figures who have visited it, a group of community members sat under the same massive oak tree Baggs said she sought shade from as a student.
“I’m greatly moved. It does bring tears to my eyes because I know what it has done for me and for many other people in Liberty County,” Baggs said.
During the ceremony, the school was officially listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust.
As one of the earliest schools for freed slaves and a retreat for Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders, the registered historic site is recognized by residents and national historians for its civil rights significance.
“This story helps tell the story of African-Americans,” said Joseph McGill Jr., program officer with the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The damage extends from the roof to the basement and it’s going to cost about one to $1.5 million to restore. The vision is to complete the task [of raising money] and create world class museum and facility.”
Cindye Jones, director of the Liberty County Convention and Business Bureau, said the National Trust is not providing the funds needed to repair the building but instead is encouraging the community to rally together and provide resources to aid with fundraising events.
Once restored, the building will serve Liberty County as a museum and community center, which Jones said will carry on the building’s tradition of education. She said despite years of vandalism and neglect, the building is still able to inspire people and she’s confident the community will pull together in support of the project.
“I was awed by so much history contained in such a small place,” she said. “It touched my soul in ways I can’t explain.”
Jones said one of the first events designed to help get the community involved is the annual Walk to Dorchester in June. The fundraiser, she said, is in honor of the many Dorchester students who were so determined to receive an education they walked up to 12 miles each way, each day, to attend school.
For more information about Dorchester or to find out how to help, go to

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