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As the oldest university in the South and the second oldest in the country, the history of William & Mary goes back more than 300 years, “anyone who stopped to think about the slavery era would have recognized that [the school] was a slave-holding institution,” said Jody Allen, director of the Lemon Project.
However, until a little more than 10 years ago when a Board of Visitors resolution established the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, Allen said the part of the college’s history that told of its adherence to Jim Crow policies and explicit segregation until 1963 wasn’t acknowledged.
The project’s research has made strides since its start, including the school announcing last April it had chosen a concept for an on-campus memorial dedicated to African Americans who had been enslaved there.
“While we are researching African Americans enslaved by William & Mary, we are also working to memorialize them,” said Sarah Thomas, program manager for the Lemon Project.
Here are five more things to know about William & Mary’s Lemon Project:
1. A slave’s namesake — Lemon was a man once enslaved by the college but according to the website, “his relationship with the university was complex and often ambiguous.” Researchers found that Lemon had grown and sold produce to the school, received a monetary Christmas bonus from the faculty, and records from 1816 show the college paid for the slave’s medicine and then his coffin when he died in 1817.
2. Trailblazing research — When it was established in 2009, William & Mary was only the second in the country to fund a project of its kind, Thomas said. “Over a decade later, there is a vibrant and growing movement of universities dealing with slavery and its legacies on their campuses,” she said.
3. It’s open to everyone — Every March the project hosts a symposium that’s open not only to the William & Mary community but also to the public and academics around the country, Thomas said. This year marks the 10th anniversary and is themed “When and Where They Enter: Four Centuries of Black Women in America.” Find more information and once it opens, click here to register for the event on March 19-21.
4. Going forward with reconciliation and inclusiveness — One of the project’s initiatives added the “Donning of the Kente” tradition to William & Mary’s commencement weekend in 2012. Through 2018, nearly 750 students had participated in the rite of passage ceremony meant to celebrate “excellence, both personal and academic, for students of color,” according to the website.
5. The mission — Thomas reinforced the Lemon Project has four main goals:
- To conduct the scholarly research necessary to complete the history of William & Mary, especially related to the African American experience.
- To build bridges between the campus and the Greater Williamsburg African American community.
- To encourage the development of an atmosphere on campus that makes all students feel welcome and acknowledged.
- To continue and expand its leadership role in the growing national and international movement of colleges and universities studying their full histories as they relate to slavery and its legacies.
Read more about the Lemon Project and a recently released overview of its last eight years by clicking here.