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Lemon Project’s 10th annual symposium to focus on black women in America

  • Lynn Briley, Janet Brown Strafer and Karen Ely
    Trailblazers:  (From left) Lynn Briley, Janet Brown Strafer and Karen Ely were William & Mary's first African-American residential students. The university recently recognized the 50th anniversary of the year they entered W&M with a yearlong commemoration. This year's Lemon Project Spring Symposium will focus on theme of “When and Where They Enter: Four Centuries of Black Women in America."  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William & Mary’s 10th annual Lemon Project Spring Symposium will feature several opportunities with the Slave Dwelling Project, including a campfire conversation and overnight stay in the Wren Building.

Scheduled for March 19-21, 2020, the symposium will center on the theme of “When and Where They Enter: Four Centuries of Black Women in America.” Along with the Slave Dwelling Project events, the symposium will include panel discussions around topics from black women claiming their voices to undergraduate research and digital humanities. The symposium is free and open to the public, but attendees should register in advance.

“We’re elated to see the growth of the symposium over the past ten years and energized that local and family historians, academics and museum professionals, from across the country take part in this event,” said Jody Allen, Lemon Project director and assistant professor of history. “Above all, we’re thankful that the local community continues to support us and take part in these important conversations.”  

Launched in 2009, the Lemon Project is a long-term research effort at W&M to uncover the university’s history with slavery and racism and its ongoing relationship with the African-American community. The project held its first symposium in spring 2010 and went on to host numerous additional events, programs and courses over the next decade. In 2018, the Board of Visitors passed a resolution to extend the project and to apologize for William & Mary’s history related to exploiting slave labor and racial discrimination. An effort is currently underway to build a Memorial to African Americans Enslaved by William & Mary.

The Slave Dwelling Project, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary, seeks to educate the public about slavery and the contributions of African Americans at the sites of former slave dwellings across the country. The organization provides presentations, living history programs and overnight stays at sites associated with slavery. It also advocates for the preservation of the sites.

The Lemon Project Symposium begins March 19 with a dinner and welcome at 5:30 p.m. followed by a campfire conversation at 6:30 p.m. on the Historic Campus with representatives from the Slave Dwelling Project.

After that, a small group of people will spend the night in the Wren Building, where enslaved people worked and lived alongside students and professors. In addition to registering for the conference, people interested in the overnight stay must register in advance for a chance to participate. Once capacity is reached, a waiting list will be created. Those staying overnight will sleep on the floor and must bring their own sleeping bags, flashlights and other amenities.

“This is a somber event, and we encourage our community to participate as we remember and honor the African Americans who were enslaved by and labored at William & Mary from 1693 to 1865,” said Sarah Thomas, program manager for the Lemon Project.

The symposium continues March 20 at the School of Education with a 10 a.m. presentation by Slave Dwelling Project Founder Joseph McGill in the Dogwood Room.

Following that presentation, two concurrent panel sessions will be held from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Dogwood and Holly rooms. Following lunch, additional panel sessions will be held in the same rooms. That evening, singer and composer Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell will lead participants in song as part of her “Building a Vocal Community” program. The program will begin at 6 p.m. in the Matoaka Woods Room of the School of Education.

On March 21, the conference continues in the School of Education with an 8:50 a.m. welcome from W&M President Katherine A. Rowe in the Matoaka Woods room. A plenary panel on “Entering the Past: The Daily Experience of Black Women Interpreters” will follow in the same space at 9 a.m. Two concurrent panels in the Matoaka Woods and Dogwood rooms will precede lunch, with additional panels planned for the afternoon in the same locations. There will also be representatives from community, cultural and campus organizations in the Holly room throughout the day on Saturday.

At 7 p.m., the conference concludes with a performance of “Dance of the Orcas,” written and directed by Omiyẹmi Artisia Green, associate professor of theatre and Africana studies and Sharpe Associate Professor of Civil Renewal and Entrepreneurship. The performance will be held in the Matoaka Woods room.

A full schedule of events is available on the Lemon Project website, along with details on the panel sessions and biographies of the speakers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Arts & Sciences General Fund, the Special Collections Research Center in William & Mary Libraries, the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History, All Together Williamsburg and the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists.