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Walk to Dorchester recalls striving to achieve
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Mary Baggs, 97, proudly displays her class ring from the Dorchester Academy graduating class of 1932. - photo by Alena Parker / Coastal Courier
Mary Baggs did not have a car to attend Dorchester Academy in the 1920s, only a "drive to get an education."
While forced sometimes to walk to school, Baggs said she thought about "improving myself and getting a better occupation," and "helping the other generation to come." So she was happy to attend this year's eighth annual Walk to Dorchester Saturday.
Marking her 98th birthday next month, Baggs counts her graduation from Dorchester a milestone, helping her later become a teacher.
Baggs also went public school and had to work to pay the $1.50 per month tuition to attend Dorchester.
Since she sometimes boarded at school, Baggs did not always have to walk, but when she did, she said "we had fun walking."
"The anxiety was so great, we didn't get (to school) late," she explained. "You just wanted to come."
Baggs hopes the current walk will help the younger generation "value" getting an education, which she believes betters a person.
"I always say, whatever you can the best at that," she said.
Clarence Williams Sr. did not attend Dorchester but came to walk and shared his experiences of being around during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., describing him as "an ambassador to progress and to change at that time."
Williams, also a mentor to Liberty's NAACP president J.C. Shipman and state Rep. Al Williams, counted it a privilege to live during King's time and thought it was important for people to "appreciate a public education."
"Prior to the development of this facility, there was no education for black people," he said.
Deborah Dawson walked with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and said those at the time walked because "they knew that they wanted an education."
"In order for them to get an education they would have to walk because there was no other way to get to school," Dawson said.
She has participated in the Walk to Dorchester for the past couple of years and has family ties to the historic landmark.
Her great-great-grandfather was Floyd Snelson, one of Dorchester's first principals in the 1870s, the county's first black principal and a former slave.
Levonia LeCounte also completed the walk and discussed with other walkers, comparing conditions now to then.
"A group of us talked about the fact that they had to walk, but it was not pavement and the fact that they were on time (for school)," LeCounte said.
"Those people walked in order to pave ways for us, in so many ways," Dawson added. "We have it so easy, but we think we have it hard now."
"They didn't have any other alternative," Lelon Frazier Jr. of First African Baptist Church in Riceboro said. "If they wanted it, they had to just go and do it."
Frazier was on patrol during the walk, riding his four-wheeler up and down the road, encouraging the walkers.
"Back then, they had a more positive drive about the future than, really, we have today," Frazier said.
He listed the modern conveniences of school buses, after-school tutors and the Internet available to students.
"There's so much more for us today, than it was for them," he said.
"They sacrificed and made it greater and better for us," James Simmons said.
He has participated in the Walk to Dorchester since it began, only missing one year.
He felt his predecessors were willing to sacrifice for a "better way of life."
Hinesville City Councilman Charles Frasier called the annual walk a "great event."
He said the walk is to "try to replicate the challenges," of the forerunners who petitioned for African-American education.
"What it does more than anything else is it brings the community together," Frasier said.
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