LIBERTY COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - February marks Black History Month. All month long, we’ll be bringing you profiles of local people and places that each play a key role for African Americans.
Dorchester Academy sits among the moss-covered oaks as a testament to local and national history. It opened in 1870 as a school for African American children.
“They would walk nine miles to get here, and some of them would stay upstairs,” said Bobvet Williams, Dorchester Academy.
A school employee rang the church bell across the road as the tardy warning.
“He would keep ringing it as the saw them running down the road. That’s how important education was to these people,” Williams said.
At its height, Dorchester boasted 300 students and athletic teams that competed against other black schools. In the early 1940′s, Liberty County opened public segregated schools nearby that siphoned the students away. The community kept the grounds open. In the 1960′s, Dorechester drew the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders in the Civil Rights movement.
If you think of Dr. King as the president of the Civil Rights movement, Dorchester was “Camp David” - a retreat where he and his aides came to plan many of the campaigns.
“He thought this was an excellent place. It was off the road. There weren’t a lot of people around. Blacks were all around,” Williams said.
Williams remembers the who’s who of the movement visiting here.
WTOC: “I would imagine when those folks came to town, word spread?”
Williams: “Word spread!”
WTOC: “That was like movie stars coming to town.”
Williams: “Movie stars, that’s for sure!”
One obstacle to equality back then was a literacy test at the polls. Volunteers came here for training to teach black voters the necessary skills for voting and more.
“It seemed like a different busload of people every month. They’d leave here and go to Southern states and teach people how to read and write.”
Now, Dorchester serves as a national landmark and a community spot for reunions, as well as weddings and receptions.
WTOC: “As they ride by and see the Dorchester sign, maybe they stop and look around. What do you hope they take with them?"
Williams: “I hope they take with them how hard it was to go to school, how hard it was to learn.”
They’re working through local tourism leaders to preserve the history and help tell it to future generations.
“We’re trying really hard to make this one of the best places to visit in the South,” Williams said.
WTOC: “Dr. King would be proud.”
Williams: “He would be.”
Dorchester Academy has been named to the National Historic Registry and a list of national sites that are part of the Civil Rights Movement.