William & Mary
Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library

The Special Collections Resource Center has a wealth of information about the College’s and Williamsburg’s history.  Start by reading the Center’s wiki entry on “The College and Slavery”, “African Americans at the College of William and Mary,” or a special index of the "The Flat Hat" that gathers articles, published between 1911 and 1975, related to African Americans. 

Take a look at our research topics list, including possible research project subjects based on the resources and collections available at Swem Library.

Librarian Beatriz Hardy put together a research guide to orient researchers to Special Collections' resources related to African Americans. Take a moment to browse the guide and the SCRC’s catalog. Feel free to contact Special Collections staff at spcoll@wm.edu if you have any questions. A guide to other Swem Library resources including books, databases, audiovisual material, and additional web resources is also available.

Special Collections staff also routinely put together exhibits featuring the College’s history, often exploring topics that would be of interest to Lemon Project scholars. “Slavery in Virginia,” on online exhibit created by Sarah Dorpinghaus and Sarah Erb, can be found here. The SCRC has an exhibit in the Marshall Gallery entitled “From ‘Separate but Equal’ to ‘With All Deliberate Speed’: Civil Rights in Public Education.”  The exhibit will be available until September 2011.  For a list of all current exhibits, please visit the Swem website.

“The World of Henry Billups: Jim Crow in Williamsburg”
Jody Allen, Visiting Professor of History

Henry Billups labored at William and Mary from 1888 until 1955, and he operated in two different worlds--on the campus he was the "Doctor of Boozeology"; at home he was a respected family man. This exhibit, on display until November 2011 in Swem Library’s Third Floor Rotunda Gallery, was curated by Professor Jody Allen's class "The World of Henry Billups." One part of the exhibit focuses on Billups, while three others explore the College, the community, and the struggle against change.

 “Benjamin Franklin, the College of William and Mary, and the Williamsburg Bray School,” Anglican and Episcopal History 79
Terry L. Meyers, (December 2010), 368-393.

English professor Terry Meyers has recently conducted extensive research into the relationship between the Bray School – a free school in Williamsburg for free and enslaved blacks – and the College. 

"Integration at Work: The First Labor History of the College of William and Mary"

Students in a class taught by History Professor Cindy Hahamovitch collaborated on this study examining several aspects of racial and economic history at the College and in Williamsburg from before the restoration of the Colonial Capital to more contemporary times.

"Integrating the College of William and Mary"
Lois Bloom

This report is an account of efforts made to integrate the College in the decade following the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a period of slow and halting progress. Two critical events in 1968 raised awareness of William and Mary as a segregated institution: the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the start of an investigation by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into discrimination at the College and efforts being made (or not) by the administration to comply with the Civil Rights Act. The HEW investigation eventually encompassed a lawsuit that reached the United States Supreme Court in 1971. Not until 1972, with changes at the top of the William and Mary administration, did the College begin to move toward embracing programs of affirmative action.

 “A First Look at the Worst: Slavery and Race Relations at the College of William and Mary” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 16
Terry L. Meyers (April 2008), 1141-1168.

Terry Meyers published a short history of slavery and race relations at the College of William & Mary from its founding in 1693 to the current day in the hopes of inspiring further research. He synthesizes information both new and known from a variety of sources. The paper started as a background paper for a resolution to be considered by the Faculty Assembly at William & Mary calling on the Provost to commission a full history of the subject.

"1971 Commencement Speaker at William and Mary"
Lois Bloom
The senior class of 1971 sponsored a referendum to determine their preferences for recommending a commencement speaker to the administration.  Mayor Charles Evers of Fayette, Mississippi was second on the final list of speakers they proposed.  After the students’ first choice declined, the administration suggested that inviting Mr. Evers “might not be appropriate.” College president Davis Y. Paschall instead invited four others to speak, by-passing Mr. Evers, all of whom declined, and he continued to search for a graduation speaker whom he considered would appeal “to all segments of the college community.”  When a local member of the state legislature was finally announced as the 1971 speaker, Mr. Evers accepted an invitation from the graduating seniors to speak at a separate assembly on the day of Commencement.  In accepting their invitation he suggested that they “take this experience as an object lesson of what racism has done in our country, and . . .  attempt in your future lives to help get rid of discrimination in all its forms.” Read the full report.
"Confederates on the Campus 'Dixie' and Secession"
Lois Bloom

Two long traditions on campus greeted the first black undergraduates who integrated William and Mary in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  One had the school band playing “Dixie” at William and Mary football games as students and others stood to clap and sing along.  Evidently no one questioned the practice until the week before the 1969 Homecoming Game, when students objected to the song as a “symbol of one of the worst periods in American history” and threatened to demonstrate and burn the Confederate flag in protest if the song was played at the Homecoming game.  As a result, the College Band Director announced that the band would not play “Dixie” and, furthermore, the tune had been dropped from the band’s musical selections. 

Another tradition was an annual parade of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, marching from the Colonial Capital to the intersection where Duke of Gloucester street meets the college campus and dressed in Confederate uniforms.  There the fraternity president handed a sword to a member of the College administration to signify the fraternity’s temporary secession from the College for a weekend in Virginia Beach.  In 1971, the College Vice-President who was to accept the sword, pronounced the parade and ceremonies “symbolic of the chivalry and traditions of the Old South.  There is nothing racial in it at all.”  The Black Student Organization disagreed and staged a counter demonstration, considering the event “an insult to the blacks on campus” and a symbol of “the perpetuation of traditional Southern prejudices.” Nevertheless, the tradition evidently continued for at least another decade.

Desegregation of Virginia Education Project (DOVE)
OId Dominion University, and Virginia’s academic libraries

The DOVE project was created to identify, locate, catalog and encourage the preservation of records that document Virginia’s school desegregation process. The scope of the project is records related to the desegregation of public and private schools in Virginia, grades K-12 and institutions of higher education. Librarian Beatriz Hardy of Swem Library has been instrumental in pursuing Dove’s initiatives here at the College.

The Maggie Lena Walker Project

 In the Spring of 2009, William & Mary Professor and former National Parks Service ranger Heather Huyck taught a class about Maggie Lena Walker, an early-twentieth-century black businesswoman from Richmond. While on a field trip, her students discovered boxes of forgotten papers related to Walker and her career. A major project is now underway to inventory, interpret, and preserve the newly discovered documents.

Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture

Publishers of erudite monographs and the William and Mary Quarterly. For cutting edge scholarship, check out their current publications and frequent colloquia.

The Williamsburg Documentary Project

The Williamsburg Documentary Project, created by American Studies Professor Arthur Knight, collects and preserves artifacts, documents, and memories of Williamsburg’s history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The paper material collected as part of the project is available in the Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library and the oral histories are available through the W&M Digital Archive.  It includes a particularly rich representation of African American life and of special note are the dozens of oral history interviews conducted with black residents. Read the Project’s blog or peruse the digital archive.

The Middle Passage Project

Joanne Braxton, a professor of English, launched The Middle Passage Project in 1995 at the College.  The Project serves to explore the history and memory surrounding the transatlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas, and its representation in literature and the humanities.

The Middle Passage Project

Joanne Braxton, a professor of English, launched The Middle Passage Project in 1995 at the College.  The Project serves to explore the history and memory surrounding the transatlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas, and its representation in literature and the humanities.

"Writing at the William and Mary Bray School?" 

Terry Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English at William and Mary discusses whether or not students at the Bray School were taught writing. Read the article here.