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Ribbon cutting for new Civil Rights exhibit in Midway
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dorchester academy

Historic Dorchester Center in Midway will have a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate its new permanent exhibit "THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AT DORCHESTER CENTER." The ribbon cutting will be on Friday June 4, at noon

Midway is one of three Georgia cities on the National Civil Rights Trail along with Atlanta and Albany. Dorchester Center is located in Midway and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of forty-eight national landmarks in the state of Georgia. 

Its new exhibit brings to life the story of Dorchester Center's key role in the Civil Rights Movement with artifacts, documents, and speeches of influential leaders who worked alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to achieve equal rights for African Americans. The center was pivotal for three major programs facilitated by the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by Dr. King: the Citizenship Education Program, the planning of the Birmingham Campaign, and aspects of the S.C.O.P.E. Project.

William Austin, board president of the Dorchester Improvement Association states, "We have worked diligently to show the prominence of Dorchester Academy, a school founded in 1874 for newly freed people by the Congregational Church and the American Missionary Association. By the late 1950s it was a community center. However, in 1961 Ambassador Andrew Young was a young Congregational minister who selected this old boys' dormitory as the site of S.C.L.C.'s transformative work that changed American society."

In January of 1963, Dorchester Center was the site in which SCLC leaders including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (president), Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy (vice president), and Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker (executive director), and Rev. Andrew Young (director of CEP), met with affiliate member Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth- director of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) - to devise a plan to end racial segregation in Birmingham, AL. The code name for the plan was "Project C" (for Confrontation) which is known nationally as The Birmingham Campaign. This pivotal moment helped to galvanize national support for civil rights reform and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Austin recalls a visit to New York in 2006 where he met with Rev. Walker, known as the architect of the Birmingham Campaign. "Rev. Walker said 'Dorchester was holy ground' and Dr. King trusted him to develop the blueprint right here at Dorchester Center for how SCLC would work with African Americans in Birmingham to execute a strategy that would force the power structures of that city to concede to the demands of nonviolent direct action," states Austin.

The exhibit also shines a spotlight on the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement. From 1961-1970 DOrchester Center was the training headquarters of the S.C.L.C.'s Citizenship Education Program, a voter education initiative led predominantly by African American women. In 1961, Ambassador Andrew Young, then a young preacher under Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was appointed director of the overall program while educator and NAACP activist Septima P. Clark of Charleston, S.C. served as director of teacher training and Dorothy Cotton, the only woman in Dr. King's SCLC inner-circle, served as director of education. 

"As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, there were hundreds, even thousands of women who were trained by Septima Clark and Dorothy Cotton here at Dorchester. states Hermina Glass-Hill, the exhibit's curator. "After completing the five-day citizenship education training, they returned to their local communities throughout the south where they became leaders. Many of their names are not noted in history books, but this exhibit calls their names and acknowledges their contributions and we will begin collecting those important untold stories to help us better understand how the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in achieving civil and voting rights."

The exhibit explores S.C.L.C.'s 1965 S.C.O.P.E. Project (Summer Community Organizing and Political Education) which was directed by Rev. Hosea Williams, a leader in the Chatham County Crusade for Voters. S.C.O.P.E. brought hundreds of northern college students and Freedom Movement supporters into Black communities in six southern states (Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida). S.C.O.P.E. was active in Liberty County. 

Georgia State Representative Al Williams (D - Midway, District 168) was a young high school student who remembers meeting Dr. King and Mrs. Septima Clark at Dorchester Center. He participated in S.C.O.P.E. Williams and a classmate, Beverly Lewis Gross, along with Alice Walker, who years later would write the acclaimed novel The Color Purple, was driving to a S.C.O.P.E. meeting in Savannah when they were pulled over by police, arrested, and locked up in jail. "Alice Walker was a student at Sarah Lawrence College and she had some traveler's checks that she tried to use to bail us out of jail" states Rep. Williams. "But the folks at the police station wouldn't take them. So Beverly and I were put into separate jail cells and we had to stay overnight until Alice could find some place to cash the traveler's checks and bail us out the next day."

"It is time now to tell all of the stories relating to the Civil Rights Movement which changed the world and Dorchester Center was a major part of that transformative moment in history," says Hermina Glass-Hill. "We hope that people will get a true sense of just how special Dorchester really is on a local and national level."

Dorchester Center is located at 8787 E. Oglethorpe Highway in Midway. The ceremony is free and open to the public. Masks are required. To visit during weekdays, please call 912-884-2347 for reservations. There will be an general admissions fee.

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