During the 1992 Senior Recognition Program, as she looked across the street to see an old building that was much worn and barely useable, Harriet Tillman thought of an idea that would put Dorseyville, LA on a course of self-regeneration, self-improvement and self-empowerment. Her idea concerned the old Dorseyville School, which was constructed in 1892 and was the original building used to educate African American boys and girls from the village and nearby plantations. Armed with the strong belief that this building, one that has produced many successful educators and other professionals, should not be demolished, Tillman set out to save the building.
Tillman first tried to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office advised her that some of the antique features had been destroyed over time and this would disqualify the building for placement on the National Register. Somewhat dismayed, she did not give up her efforts and instead attempted to get the St. John Baptist Church, built in 1868, named to the Register. Tillman spearheaded this effort, which required reviewing court records, taking pictures of the church, developing a slide presentation, interviewing the senior citizens of the community and contacting elected officials for supporting statements. The church was put on the National Register on December 2, 1993, a happy day for the residents of the two-street rural community that is still surrounded by sugar cane plantations.
As a result of acquiring National Register status, a restoration committee was formed to maximize the development of the Dorseyville community. Tillman recruited twelve people from the church and community to serve and formulate functional objectives. She and the restoration group began by raising funds to begin the project. Under Tillman’s leadership, the group produced advertisement books, sold candy and held fashion shows and a Centennial celebration to obtain funding. These activities, along with several donations, yielded $24,000.
The Old Dorseyville School restoration project was eventually completed. The newly restored building is used to promote the Dorseyville community as a strong neighborhood. It is also a site for providing education and training to disadvantaged residents. Future plans for the building include establishing a literacy program in Dorseyville that places an emphasis on at-risk youth. Currently, Tillman and the Dorseyville Community Development Corporation, Inc., a community group formed as a result of Tillman's vision, is at work keeping the dream of Reverend Bazille Dorsey, founder of the church and school, alive. They are actively restoring, renovating, closing ditches, adding street lights and traffic lights and generally cultivating the rich history of African Americans in a small rural community.
Harriet Tillman has invested countless hours of planning and implementation to community development and mobilization during that past six years. She did so because of her love for others and the belief that when one has been blessed they should pass it on.