Two William & Mary faculty members will lead the multiyear effort to better understand the role of race in the College’s history, including its connections to slavery, Provost Michael R. Halleran announced recently.
Kimberley Phillips, associate professor of history and American studies, and Robert Vinson, assistant professor of history and Africana studies, will serve as co-chairs of the Lemon Project Committee. The committee will include faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the Greater Williamsburg community.
“This is a College and community partnership to understand the role of race in our history and how to move forward with that shared understanding,” Halleran said. “We’re going to do this in the William & Mary way. That will include a deliberate and thoughtful look at the College’s history, including some painful pieces of that history, and how we may learn from them.”
In April 2009, the William & Mary Board of Visitors unanimously approved a resolution in support of the long-term research project, “The Lemon Project: a Journey of Reconciliation.” The project is named for a slave called Lemon whom the College owned in the early 18th century. William & Mary learned about Lemon through research last year by visiting professor Robert Engs, one of the nation’s top scholars of African American history. Engs, who retired from the University of Pennsylvania and recently relocated to Williamsburg, will continue advising the project and serve as a member of the steering committee, Halleran said.
In his charge to the committee, Halleran suggests the Lemon Project could become a model “for other collegiate institutions, especially in the South, as they too seek to come to terms with a past tainted by racism and face futures that must include all races equally.”
The committee launched a Web site this week that will continue to update members of the community on ongoing initiatives and projects and upcoming events, Phillips said. The committee wants to serve as a coordinating resource and database for research and projects already completed and work underway by faculty, staff, students and members of the community. The focus will go beyond William & Mary’s connection to slavery, she added, and also look at race relations at the College from the end of the Civil War to date.
“It is critical to acknowledge the past and help establish new relationships and understandings for the future,” said Phillips, adding that upcoming events and research could include a lecture series, conferences, new undergraduate courses and study abroad programs, a series of published papers, minority scholarships, and oral history projects involving longtime African American residents of the Williamsburg community and some of the College’s first African American alumni. “We also want to find additional ways to connect the local community with the College.”
Vinson said one immediate initiative will be a new inter-disciplinary seminar offered to undergraduates in the fall on “slavery and memory.” The upper-level course will feature three William & Mary professors (Joanne Braxton, Cummings Professor of English; James La Fleur, assistant professor of history; and Ted Maris-Wolf, of the College’s Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture) who will rotate as class instructors. He said the project will draw on as many areas of campus and as many resources as possible.
“We want to build on that scholarly work and bring together some of these efforts already underway,” Vinson said. “This initiative can really reshape the culture inside the College as it deals with race.”