Hundreds are expected to descend upon eastern Liberty County this weekend to replicate the miles-long treks that many students of Dorchester Academy endured to get an education.
The 13th annual Walk to Dorchester will kick off at 6 a.m. Saturday at Briar Bay Park in Riceboro.
“We’re going to get an early start so we can get to Dorchester before the heat starts,” Dorchester Improvement Association President Bill Austin said. “Thankfully, most of the people are off the course between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m.”
There is no charge for participation, but the group uses the walk to raise funds for renovation and improvement projects to preserve the boys’ dormitory and the surrounding grounds.
“We do encourage and ask people to donate to the cause and restoration,” Austin said, adding that the group hopes to hit is annual fundraising mark of $25,000. “It’s becoming more and more evident to the people what we have been able to do with the funds that they have given to us in restoring Dorchester. I think the place is beginning to sparkle, and the usage has gone up tremendously.”
Funds raised this year will be used to refurbish floors throughout the boys’ dormitory, Austin said. Repair of the second-floor walls is about 30 percent complete.
The facility, still used today for community events, has a rich history.
The American Missionary Association opened a one-room school at the site for freed slaves around 1868, and former slave the Rev. Floyd Snelson — one of the namesakes for Snelson-Golden Middle School — became head of the school and pastor of the associated church.
Under Snelson, the school prospered and became known as the Dorchester Academy. Documents indicate the institution served students from 8 to 80 years old and was in use until 1941.
During the 1960s, the campus was a training ground for the civil-rights movement. African Americans were bused in from throughout the South to learn about civil disobedience and voters’ rights.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King also used the grounds as a retreat, where he penned parts of his “I Have a Dream” speech, planned actions and even played basketball in the gymnasium of the neighboring Liberty County Elementary/High School, which is undergoing a conversion to a county-owned recreation center for east-end residents.
Dorchester also is federally recognized for its historical significance. Austin will represent Dorchester on June 19 in Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of a Frederick Douglass statue in the Capitol Rotunda.
Walk participants will have a chance to learn more about the center’s history after the walk, as the museum will be open and tours the boys’ dormitory will be given, Austin said. They’ll also be treated to breakfast, and energy drinks will be offered along the route.
Several teams are participating in the walk, including the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department, Fort Stewart, groups from Savannah and former Dorchester caretaker Eugene Dryer, who lives in Atlanta and raises about $4,500 each year.
Austin welcomes all ages and athletic levels, adding that some groups plan to run the route in about 90 minutes, while some folks only participate in portions of the walk.