11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Year Listed: 2009
Location: Midway, Georgia
The story of Dorchester Academy, one of the earliest schools for African Americans in the state of Georgia and a National Historic Landmark, is forever linked to the cultural and political forces that shaped our nation's history. Founded in 1871 as a school for freed slaves, Dorchester started humbly in a one-room schoolhouse with a student body ranging in age from eight to 80. In later years, the school played a pivotal role in voter-registration drives and as a center of activity for the civil rights movement.
Dorchester Academy was established by the American Missionary Association (AMA) at the urging of William A. Golding, a former slave who became a state legislator. By the 1920s, school enrollment fluctuated between 220 and 300 students, and by the 1930s, the school housed the Dorchester Cooperative Center store and credit union, which helped local residents buy homes and open businesses. When the Academy ceased operating as a school in 1940, the innovative spirit of the institution continued with the opening of a community center housed in the old boys' dormitory.
During the 1940s, the school was the site of African-American voter registrations. At the height of the civil rights movement, Dorchester Academy hosted Citizen Education Workshops sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to train grassroots leaders from all over the South and send these leaders home to instruct their neighbors about their legal rights and responsibilities. Later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Joseph Lowery spent time at the Academy preparing for the Birmingham march, and Dr. King also wrote and practiced portions of his "I Have a Dream," speech at Dorchester Academy.