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Liberty's link to civil right movement
Dorchester Academy
MN Dorchester
The boy’s dormitory is one of only two remaining buildings of Dorchester Academy. - photo by Photo by Matt Norsworth
Famous people visit Liberty County, but it is not too often we know about it. The president will come at least once in his term to visit Fort Stewart, but typically never leaves the base. Yes, we used to have Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez sightings from time to time, later Jennifer Garner. Yet, few people talk about how, for years, Martin Luther King Jr. used to come to Midway at times and stay at Dorchester Academy.
Dorchester Academy was dedicated and named in its present location at 8787 E. Oglethorpe Highway in Midway in 1879.
The academy served as a day school and boarding school for both the children of freed blacks in Liberty County, and the parents and grandparents as well. Dorchester Academy was started by the American Missionary Association and named after the original home in England of the settlers who established Midway.
The first graduates at Dorchester were Sarah Morrison and Frank Darvels. They graduated in 1896 and were also the first high school graduates in Liberty County.
The Dorchester Academy continued educating black children until 1940 when the county built a consolidated school for them. Throughout the 1940s, many of the buildings were torn down. The magnificent red brick structure that remains was built in 1934.
Throughout the 1960s, at the peak of the civil rights movement, Dorchester Academy’s Board for Homeland Ministries sponsored classes and workshops. People were taught how to spread information about civil rights and gain support for the civil rights movement. This was known as the Citizenship Education Project. It was co-sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Martin Luther King Jr. presided over.
King would visit the academy, unbeknownst to most of Liberty County’s citizens, to plan and regroup for the conference’s various events and speaking engagements.
He prepared for his famous march in Birmingham, Ala., while at the academy. The Midway area provided a comfortable level of anonymity for the civil rights leader.
A restoration campaign has been ongoing since 1997 to raise money to bring return the structure to its original glory. Some work has already been done, but most of the work involved so far has been in the way of fundraising.
For information on joining the Dorchester Improvement Association, call 884-2347. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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