The Remarkable History of Dorchester Academy
Located on the Georgia coast in the town of Midway is the Historic Dorchester Academy & Museum. Believe it or not, this impressive center for education started as a one-room school house after the Civil War and later became a key meeting location for civil rights leaders in the 1960s.
Dorchester Academy's Early Years
William Golden, a freed slave, established Golden’s School for African American students in 1866 on a property deeded to him in Midway, Georgia. Several years later, when Rev. Floyd Snelson, an African American Congregational missionary, arrived in Liberty County for missionary work, he discovered the school and saw that it was at risk. Rev. Snelson wrote to the American Missionary Association asking for funds to breathe new life into the school, allowing the two men to enlarge not only the physical building but also the scope of academia offered by its teachers. In 1872, Dorchester Academy was established.
Complete with a large farm on campus, the boarding school was quickly independent and able to offer more to its students. Many students walked miles to attend the six-month school year at Dorchester Academy. The students and staff raised their own food, as well as sold livestock, eggs and chickens to pay for school operating costs. In addition to standard subjects and farm living, students were trained for occupations they would most likely work in upon graduation, making for a rich education especially for the time.
By 1917, the school was fully accredited and had 300 students enrolled. Dorchester Academy was, in fact, the first school in the state to graduate a 12th grade class. Before that, no school in Georgia went beyond 11th grade. A few years later in 1934, the entire senior class was accepted to college. The school was classified as a Group I Georgia accredited high school, establishing it as one of the “best schools in teaching staff, equipment or laboratory, library and building, and three-fourths of the academic teachers holding degrees.”
From School to Center for Social Change
Dorchester Academy was closed for academic learning in 1940 after Liberty County established the Liberty County Training School for African American students. Already a pillar in the community, the school became home to the Dorchester Cooperative Center. The space that once was a center for learning became a place of community development, political and social change.
Nearly 20 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other key figures in the American Civil Rights Movement — including Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth — prepared for “Project C” at historic Dorchester Academy. Project C would be later memorialized as the infamous Birmingham march, one of the first major victories in the Civil Rights Movement.
The spirit of the school still lives through the Dorchester Improvement Association. Every year on Juneteenth (June 19), the organization hosts the Annual Walk to Dorchester, commemorating those students who walked miles in the name of education all those years ago. One of those students was the grandmother of current Riceboro, Georgia, Mayor Bill Austin.
Dorchester Academy, which now serves as an African-American history museum and community center, is developing a community educational and research center. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Landmark, it recently was named one of 11 stops in Georgia on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which includes more than 100 landmarks in 14 states that played pivotal roles in advancing social justice in the 1950s and 1960s.
Nearby Sites of Interest
Complement your trip to Dorchester Academy with visits to these nearby sites that share and preserve African American history and heritage in Liberty County:
- Seabrook Village and Living History Museum
- Geechee Kunda Cultural Arts Center & Museum
- Historic Baptismal Trail
Get a preview of your trip with these 16 photos that capture African-American history in Liberty County.