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Lemon Project fosters historical discussion, will host campus symposium

Originally published by The Flat Hat

As the new academic year begins, the Lemon Project is celebrating its ninth year of working towards discovery and reconciliation for African Americans enslaved by the College of William and Mary in the early days of its history. As it nears the completion of its first decade in operation, the Project continues to build scholarship and awareness of these untold stories through research, open dialogue and community engagement.  

The Lemon Project will host a number of events throughout the year designed to increase community discussion and foster student participation. These include a series of dialogues titled Legacies Porch Talks, which allow students, faculty and guests to learn and discuss a variety of subjects concerning the College’s history with enslaved people. Along with these talks, at the end of every semester, the project hosts a Drum Circle to continue engagement and serve as an event of cultural exchange.  

In March 2020, the Project will host its tenth annual symposium with the theme “When and Where They Enter: Four Centuries of Black Women in America.” This symposium aims to present various subjects associated with this theme and widen the Project’s scale of education and awareness, both on campus and around Williamsburg. 

Lemon Project Director Jody Allen described the Project’s commitment to community engagement and its intention to continue the enhancement of education.  

“From day one, the Board of Visitors’ resolution acknowledged the need to build a bridge between the campus and the great Williamsburg community, particularly the African American community … One of our goals is to actually get out and find out how we can better support K-12 education,” Allen said. “One of our goals is to begin next summer to offer a summer enrichment program for local students but also during the school year find ways to support the teachers and maybe get some of this information about the history we’ve been researching into the public schools.” 

Allen shared how the Project is steaming ahead in its ninth year and indicated what the Project continues to strive for in its immediate future.

“The research is not finished; I believe that there is still a lot more for us to find, a lot more available resources out there,” Allen said. “We’ll be overseeing and making sure that we continue to keep moving forward, maintaining to involve the local community, and this coming March is our tenth Spring Symposium. Maintaining that we keep moving towards this idea of racial healing and real reconciliation, and that’s something that’s ongoing … you have to keep working at that goal.” 

The Lemon Project Program Manager Sarah Thomas ’08 shared how the Project has begun to work with closely with students and cultivate broader acknowledgment and participation by the student body.  

“The Lemon Project Society is our student volunteer group,” Thomas said in an email. “The 2019-2020 school year will be our first full year with our LPS members … LPS members serve as ambassadors to the university community by spreading the word about our research, events, and programming; assisting in preparations for and during our events, including the annual Symposium; and helping us form connections throughout the college community. One of our members, for example, helped us begin a partnership with AMP. AMP is holding a Pop-Up event called “The Lemon Project: Uncovering William & Mary’s Past,” to spread the word among students about our work.” 

The Pop-Up event was originally scheduled for Sept. 6, but has since been rescheduled for Sept. 20 due to closures resulting from Hurricane Dorian.  

Thomas also noted her aspirations for the Project in the upcoming year and expressed her desire to increase community engagement. Thomas wishes to connect with both members of the College and the Williamsburg community to help rebuild this aspect of the College’s history.  

“I hope to continue to increase our community engagement efforts, as well as work towards establishing a research and resource center on the study of slavery and its legacies at William & Mary,” Thomas said in an email. “While we have done much research on W&M’s long history of owning and benefiting from enslaved people, as well as its engagement in Jim Crow era practices, there’s always more work to be done. I look forward to doing that work alongside the Lemon Team, Lemon Project Society members, and our supporters throughout the college and surrounding communities.” 

The Lemon Project received a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which is designated to improve genealogic research both on the College’s campus and at James Monroe’s estate, The Highland. The Project hopes to find direct ancestors of the enslaved people who helped build the College and work with them to continue the process of rectification and discovery. To facilitate this process, the Project will be hosting free workshops for community members to study and attempt to trace their lineage back to enslaved peoples who lived at the College.  

Early last summer, the Project announced that they had chosen a design for a memorial dedicated the enslaved African Americans who lived at the College. The Project has met with three architectural firms who have presented plans for the chosen design, and they expect to announce their decision within the upcoming month. This memorial will be placed directly on or adjacent to Old Campus. Funding for the Project is forthcoming.  

Throughout the year, the project will advocate for increased education by encouraging professors throughout the College to touch on the history and legacy of enslaved peoples at the College. The Project has a continuous stream of events and plans throughout the year and will continue to engage with the College and greater Williamsburg community to better address the school’s past. 

Breanca White ’21 is a member of the Lemon Project who works to add student insight and direction in the Project.   

“I think it’s really important for students to be involved to know the history of William and Mary… adults and professionals alone don’t always see the full picture,” White said.