William & Mary will explore its own past involvement with slavery and the complexities of race relations from the end of the Civil War to date. The exploration will take place through a long-term research project aimed at understanding the history of African-Americans at the College and in the greater Williamsburg community. William & Mary's Board of Visitors unanimously passed a resolution on April 20, 2009, to support this effort, called "The Lemon Project: a Journey of Reconciliation."
"The College of William and Mary acknowledges that it owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War," the Board resolution reads. "The College acknowledges that it engaged in the discrimination and exclusion that characterized educational institutions during the era of Jim Crow and disfranchisement and that it failed to challenge these hurtful policies."
The project is named for a slave called Lemon whom the College owned in the early 18th century. The College only recently learned about Lemon following research conducted last fall by visiting professor Robert Engs from the University of Pennsylvania. Engs is one of the country's top scholars on African-American history. He came to William & Mary last fall to work with faculty, staff and students to research the College's own history with slavery.
Engs, whose family lives in the Williamsburg area, will retire from Penn this year. He will continue to advise the project, which will be conducted through the Office of the Provost. The project will continue for the next five to 10 years and will involve research by a number of individuals, including William & Mary faculty and students.
To quote the Board resolution, "As a preeminent institution of higher learning we are dedicated to understanding the truth of our past and the impact that past may have had on us and on the community." The Lemon Project will involve College people as well as members of the Greater Williamsburg community, working together "to better understand, chronicle, and preserve the history of blacks at the College and in the community and to promote a deeper understanding of the indebtedness of the College to the work and support of its diverse neighbors."