In 2015, William & Mary announced changes related to two items at the university that contain images of the Confederate battle flag – the Confederate plaque, which was in the entrance hallway of the Wren Building, and the College Mace carried in formal ceremonies. Since that time, the university has replaced two emblems on the College Mace and installed a new exhibit in the Information Center of the Wren Building to provide historical context regarding the university's role and place within the U.S. Civil War as well as details of the institution's past with regards to slavery.
Below is background on the plaque and mace, and a list of frequently asked questions. For questions not covered in the information below, please email us at [[w|historiccampus]].
History of the Confederate plaque and College Mace
The Confederate plaque, which was erected in 1914 by the Board of Visitors and alumni, recognizes some of the William & Mary students and faculty who left the College in 1861 to join the Confederacy in the Civil War. It was one of many plaques in the entrance hallway of our historic Wren Building that honors W&M faculty and students who fought in wars, including the Revolutionary War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The Confederate plaque does not contain a complete accounting of all the alumni who fought for the Confederacy, only those faculty and students who were currently enrolled or worked at W&M when the war began and who left to join the Confederacy. Many of them returned to W&M after the war. Students who left to fight for the Union and alumni who did so, including the original commanding general of the U.S. Army during the Civil War, Winfield Scott, are missing from the plaque. It is now preserved at Special Collections at Swem Library.
The College Mace, which was given to the university in 1923 as a gift with funds raised from alumni, students, faculty and friends, has a ring of nine emblems reflecting the various eras through which William & Mary has lived since 1693. This ring included a small emblem with the Confederate battle flag on it and another emblem with the seal of the Confederacy. In addition, there are other emblems showing the flag and arms of Great Britain, those of Virginia, the Continental flag, and the flag and arms of the United States. The mace is traditionally used three times a year: during Opening Convocation, on Charter Day and at Commencement ceremonies. Otherwise, it remains with other artifacts in the Special Collections section of our university library.
New Civil War plaque and historical exhibit
The original plaque was moved to Special Collections at Swem Library in August 2015 and is being kept with other artifacts that describe William & Mary's past. In November 2018, William & Mary unveiled a new tablet that provides a more complete list of William & Mary faculty, alumni and students who fought on both sides of the Civil War. Several historians (including Susan Kern, executive director of the Historic Campus and Jody Allen, director of the Lemon Project) comprehensively researched the names of William & Mary participants in the Civil War. This plaque now lists 390 names instead of just the 68 names on the former plaque. It is now located in the Information Center at the Wren Building and is combined with an exhibit that provides the historical context and background regarding William & Mary's role and place within the Civil War as well as a series of panels that give an overview of slavery at William & Mary.
New emblems for the College Mace
Confederate emblems were removed from the mace and replaced with two new emblems that represent the university's long history, including during the Civil War era. One emblem is the cypher that dates back to the university's founding and is the centerpiece of William & Mary's official logo. The cypher, which was part of the university's original boundary stone, was previously absent on the mace. The second emblem is an adaptation of an original 1863 illustration of the Wren Yard that depicts Union and Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Williamsburg.
The College Mace with the two new emblems was first used in the 2016 Commencement ceremony. The original plaque and two emblems that were removed from the mace remain available to the general public by contacting Special Collections at Swem Library.
- Why did the university replace the plaque and make changes to the mace?
- Will the university continue to acknowledge this period of its history?
- What is not historically complete about the Confederate plaque?
- So the names on the original Confederate plaque are included on the new plaque?
- Is there a state law that requires General Assembly action to remove or alter a plaque honoring veterans?
- What about the Wren Building? Can you alter a National Historic Landmark?
- Why place the new plaque in the Information Center instead of the hallway?
- Who was involved in developing the new plaque and display?
- How else has William & Mary acknowledged its history with slavery?
- How can I see the new exhibit or the original artifacts?
It has become clear that the Confederate battle flag has been turned irreparably into a symbol of racial hatred. Thus, it has no place in our ceremonial occasions or on a wall of our most iconic building. (back to top)
Of course. The Confederacy is an inescapable and significant aspect of William & Mary's history. Indeed, the university barely survived the physical destruction and financial ruin brought on by the Civil War. The Confederate plaque and the College Mace were given to William & Mary a century ago and have been viewed as a remembrance of our history. But the change in how this Confederate battle flag symbol is now used has prompted us to rethink their use and their place on campus. The new tablet and accompanying exhibit in the Information center at the Wren Building provide a more complete history of William & Mary during the Civil War. As noted above, the Civil War era is still reflected on the mace. (back to top)
The Confederate plaque that was moved to Special Collections includes only 68 names, or about a fifth of total involvement of William & Mary people during the Civil War. In addition, it focuses exclusively on the Civil War service of students and faculty who left William & Mary to join the Confederacy in 1861, whether in the military or in government. We know, however, this omits the involvement of other W&M alumni from the years before and after the war. One example is alumnus Winfield Scott, who was commanding general of the U.S. Army at the start of the Civil War. The new tablet includes as many names as could be found, including names of those who fought for the Union, many names from the original plaque and additional names of individuals who fought for the Confederacy.
It was important to provide members of the community and visitors to the Wren Building a more complete history of William & Mary involvement during the Civil War and also our history with regards to slavery. The new plaque and exhibit provide this necessary context. (back to top)
No. We added many names, but, while the Confederate plaque that was moved to Swem included only 68 names, it included names of people who served the Confederate government, not just the military. The new plaque includes anyone who served in the military, but does not include government officials. The new plaque includes names of 8 alumni who fought for the Union and names of 382 individuals who fought for the Confederacy. (back to top)
Is there a state law that requires General Assembly action to remove or alter a plaque honoring veterans?
There is not a state law that applies here. The statute only applies to localities, not state agencies such as public institutions of higher education. Prior to moving the plaque in 2015, we reviewed this with our University Counsel and confirmed the plaque can be held in Special Collections. In addition, the Confederate plaque is not a memorial plaque. It includes names of faculty and students who served the Confederacy during the Civil War – not faculty and students who died fighting in the Civil War. (back to top)
The Wren Building is a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its presence on those lists rests on two areas of significance – its age and status as the oldest academic building in the United States, and its rebirth as part of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s restoration of the colonial capital of Williamsburg. Neither its Civil War history nor the 1914 commemoration of the Civil War when the previous plaque was first installed played a role in arguing for the Wren Building's National Historic Landmark status. This is not to say those events weren't important in the history of the university, just that they were not determining factors for these programs. We are allowed to move the plaque to a museum setting. We have contacted the Virginia Department of Historic Resources about compliance with historic codes. (back to top)
It is clear that any piece regarding the Civil War needs additional historical context about William & Mary's role with slavery and the war. To do this thoughtfully and comprehensively, the Information Center inside the Wren Building, which is open and available to the general public and all visitors during regular business hours, was the most appropriate location for this exhibit. (back to top)
Susan Kern, executive director of the historic campus, led an effort to research and produce a new plaque that acknowledges a much more complete military history of William & Mary's role in the Civil War. The exhibit was informed by the work of the Lemon Project, a long-term and ongoing initiative at William & Mary to research the university's involvement in slavery and its ongoing relationship with the African-American community. (back to top)
As noted, the Lemon Project was established by the Board of Visitors in 2009 to research and detail this history. Over the past nine years, leaders with the initiative have shared those findings through annual symposia, courses, special events and other programming. In April 2018, the Board of Visitors unanimously adopted a resolution apologizing for William & Mary's history as it relates to slavery and racial discrimination. In August 2018, William & Mary and the Lemon Project jointly announced a national competition for a new memorial on campus to African-Americans enslaved by William & Mary. (back to top)
The Information Center at the Wren Building is open to visitors during regular business hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. No appointments are necessary and the general public is welcome. For more information, please contact [[w|historiccampus]].
The Confederate plaque and two original mace emblems remain preserved at Special Collections at Swem Library. Like other artifacts at the library, the emblems (and plaque) are available for the general public to see by contacting Special Collections at 757-221-3090 or [[w|spcoll]]. (back to top)