Old family photographs brought the Dorchester Improvement Association in Midway and a Washington state couple together on Thursday to share a common history.
Charles Daniels’ aunts, Ruth Raphael Daniels and Mabel Eliza Daniels, left their native Ohio to teach school at Midway’s Dorchester Academy in 1913.The two resourceful young missionaries taught at the school for several years, and decades later the photographs they took of academy staff and students were passed down to their nephew.
“We were going through old family photo albums a few years ago and found them,” said Anita Daniels, Charles Daniels’ wife. “We just kept thinking these pictures were taken 100 years ago and we’ve got them. It was so exciting.”
The Daniels’ daughter, Susan Daniels, happened to be traveling across the country and stopped in Midway to show the prized photos to Dorchester Academy museum facilitator Deborah Robinson. Anita Daniels said not many photos of Dorchester Academy survive from that time period because of fires over the years. She added the names of the people pictured were written on the back, so perhaps some of the family names listed would sound familiar to local residents today.
Charles Daniels, a retired Army infantry officer and Vietnam veteran, grew up in Virginia. However, he lived in Georgia during the time he was assigned to Fort Benning. Daniels spoke about his late aunts before meeting with association members.
“I never saw Mabel. But I remember Ruth vividly as a small boy,” Daniels said. “Ruth lived with us during World War II.”
Mabel traveled to Japan in 1936 to continue with missionary work for the American Missionary Association, he said.
Charles Daniels said his aunt Ruth conducted missionary work in Maryland and Virginia during those years.
“She went wherever the need was,” he said. Charles Daniels said his aunts never married, but were dedicated to mission work.
He fondly recalled how Ruth taught herself how to drive in the 1940s. The car was a two-seater with a cloth top, made by the Crosley Automobile Company, Daniels said.
The couple said after their daughter Susan told them about her trip to Midway, they contacted Robinson and planned their visit to the place where Ruth and Mabel once taught.
Robinson wasted no time in gathering association directors and supporters together for a luncheon and history presentation to welcome the Daniels. The museum curator incorporated the Daniels’ photographs into a slide presentation and summarized Midway and the academy’s history from pre-colonial days to today.
The academy was founded in 1868 by the American Missionary Association to educate freed slaves and continued to provide schooling for African-American children in Liberty County for generations.
Dorchester closed as a school in 1941, but continued operating as a community center. The academy hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. The civil rights leader met with other activists to plan the Freedom March to Birmingham, Ala.
“In 2006, Dorchester was designated as a national landmark,” Robinson said. The museum facilitator then introduced Mabel and Ruth’s nephew, who thanked the association for their warm welcome.
The Dorchester Improvement Association was formed in 1948 to maintain the historic site. Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin serves as association president.
“We could not make progress in restoring this place without them,” Austin said, applauding association members and supporters.
“It’s a lot of effort to save a treasure like this,” he said. Austin told the Daniels that he and association members were thankful for the contribution their family members had made to Dorchester.