Just a couple weeks shy of his 75th birthday, Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin will be one of dozens expected to walk 9.1 miles from Riceboro to Dorchester Academy in Midway this Saturday.
“It’s a challenge,” he said.
It is a challenge apparently worth taking on because this will be the 18th annual Walk to Dorchester event and he has participated in every one.
He encouraged the rest of Liberty County to make plans to join in on Saturday.
Since 2000, the Dorchester Improvement Association has organized the event to raise money and raise awareness for a Liberty County structure of national historical significance.
Dorchester Academy was the meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other notable figures to plan the March on Birmingham, a gamechanger in the U.S. civil rights movement for racial equality. Liberty County’s Dorchester Academy is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recently added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
Before then, Dorchester was a boarding school where black children in Liberty County could receive an education during times of segregation. Austin explained it later became a regional meeting place to educate blacks on their voting rights.
He is the Dorchester Improvement Association president and explained Saturday’s walk is roughly the same route students took to attend Dorchester Academy.
“My grandmother lived about two miles further from the starting point,” Austin said of his relative, who became a notable midwife in Liberty County and attended Dorchester.
He explained how making the 9.1-mile trek shows “her motivation to get an education.”
Built in the 1870s, Dorchester Academy has gone through efforts to preserve the building’s structure.
“One of the big motivations was to restore Dorchester,” Austin said of the event’s purpose.
The Dorchester Improvement Association had an assessment done to identify major repairs needed to the building.
“We’ve completed roughly 70 percent of the modifications identified in that report,” Austin said.
Next on the list includes installing a heating and cooling system for the building and expanding the museum.
Anyone who can not participate in Saturday’s Walk to Dorchester is invited to make a donation.
“The 18 years that we’ve had the walk we’ve raised an average of about $24,000 a year,” Austin said.
The Walk to Dorchester event starts at 6 a.m. this Saturday June 16 at Briar Bay Park in Riceboro. Austin explained people start arriving at Dorchester around 9 a.m.
“We have some faster people who run,” he said of those who choose to run all or some of the route.
Local law enforcement provides safety support for the event. Drinks and restrooms will be available along the way. And breakfast is served for the walkers when they arrive at Dorchester.
Registration is $10 and held the day of the event.