The Georgia Trust

2010 PLACES IN PERIL: DORCHESTER ACADEMY

The Story: Founded in 1871 to educate freed slaves, Dorchester Academy provided the only educational opportunity for African American children in Liberty County for many decades. The only remaining building on the campus is a brick two-story Colonial Revival style structure built in 1934 as a boys’ dormitory, designed by architect George Awsumb. Earlier this year, the school was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. As the sole surviving building, it represents the last tangible opportunity for locals and visitors to experience a physical symbol of post-Civil War African American educational facilities funded by the American Missionary Association.

Dorchester Academy's role extended well beyond providing educational opportunities for children in the Midway area, as it also served the local minority community as a cooperative center, credit union, medical clinic and would play a significant role in minority voter registration in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. 

Most significant was its role in the 1960s when it was used a center for Citizen Education Programs sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King held a meeting at the dormitory along with Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, Wyatt T. Walker and others to plan the Birmingham march, which would bring national and international attention to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The success of the Birmingham March would result in desegregation in Birmingham; facilitate the Washington March, where Dr. King gave his “I have a Dream” speech; and ultimately lead to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The Threat: Significant and widespread failure of the roofing system has resulted in extensive damage to the property. The damage from rainwater extends from the attic decking, into the second and first level ceilings, and now has damaged a load-bearing floor joist in the basement, leaving the building structurally unstable. Mold contamination is also a great concern.  The Dorchester Improvement Association has provided loving care for this building over the decades, but its aging membership coupled with limited resources have made it impossible to make major roof repairs.

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