Founded in 1693, the College of William & Mary is well known as an intellectual and cultural center in Virginia. The College is more than just a place of education, however. It has also been an important political and social force for the past 300 years, both reflecting and giving shape to ideas of freedom, slavery, race, equality, and citizenship in Virginia and the nation. While William & Mary’s role in the nation’s founding has been widely studied, it has only been recently that scholars have begun asking questions of the College’s role in perpetuating slavery and racial discrimination.
In 2009, after student and faculty resolutions calling for a full investigation of the College’s past, the Board of Visitors acknowledged that the College had “owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War; and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow Era.” As a result, the Board offered its support for the establishment of The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation. The Project is named for Lemon, a man who was once enslaved by the College of William & Mary. We cannot know the full dimensions of Lemon’s life or his relationship with the College. In many ways, Lemon stands in the place of the known and unknown African Americans who helped to build, maintain, and move the College forward.
The Lemon Project is a multifaceted and dynamic attempt to rectify wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by the College through action or inaction. An ongoing endeavor, this program will focus on contributing to and encouraging scholarship on the 300-year relationship between African Americans and the College, and building bridges between the College and Williamsburg and Greater Tidewater area.
The Lemon Project is generously funded by the Office of the Provost at the College of William & Mary.