Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library
The Special Collections Resource Center has a wealth of information about William & Mary’s and Williamsburg’s history. Start by reading the Center’s wiki entry on “The College and Slavery”, “African Americans at the College of William and Mary,” or a special index of the "The Flat Hat" that gathers articles, published between 1911 and 1975, related to African Americans.
Take a look at our research topics list, including possible research project subjects based on the resources and collections available at Swem Library.
Librarian Beatriz Hardy put together a research guide to orient researchers to Special Collections' resources related to African Americans. Take a moment to browse the guide and the SCRC’s catalog. Feel free to contact Special Collections staff at email@example.com if you have any questions. A guide to other Swem Library resources including books, databases, audiovisual material, and additional web resources is also available.
Special Collections staff also routinely put together exhibits featuring the College’s history, often exploring topics that would be of interest to Lemon Project scholars. “Slavery in Virginia,” on online exhibit created by Sarah Dorpinghaus and Sarah Erb, can be found here. The SCRC has an exhibit in the Marshall Gallery entitled “From ‘Separate but Equal’ to ‘With All Deliberate Speed’: Civil Rights in Public Education.” The exhibit will be available until September 2011. For a list of all current exhibits, please visit the Swem website.
"1971 Commencement Speaker at William and Mary"
The senior class of 1971 sponsored a referendum to determine their preferences for recommending a commencement speaker to the administration. Mayor Charles Evers of Fayette, Mississippi was second on the final list of speakers they proposed. After the students’ first choice declined, the administration suggested that inviting Mr. Evers “might not be appropriate.” College president Davis Y. Paschall instead invited four others to speak, by-passing Mr. Evers, all of whom declined, and he continued to search for a graduation speaker whom he considered would appeal “to all segments of the college community.” When a local member of the state legislature was finally announced as the 1971 speaker, Mr. Evers accepted an invitation from the graduating seniors to speak at a separate assembly on the day of Commencement. In accepting their invitation he suggested that they “take this experience as an object lesson of what racism has done in our country, and . . . attempt in your future lives to help get rid of discrimination in all its forms.” Read the full report.
“A First Look at the Worst: Slavery and Race Relations at the College of William and Mary” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 16
Terry L. Meyers (April 2008), 1141-1168.
Terry Meyers published a short history of slavery and race relations at William & Mary from its founding in 1693 to the current day in the hopes of inspiring further research. He synthesizes information both new and known from a variety of sources. The paper started as a background paper for a resolution to be considered by the Faculty Assembly at W&M calling on the Provost to commission a full history of the subject.
"African Americans at the College of William and Mary from 1950 to 1970"
This 2012 report, supported through the Charles Center's Summer Research Grants, was written by undergraduate Jacqueline Filzen. In her paper, she investigated the experiences of the first African American students at the College of William & Mary from 1950 through 1970. She also details the attitudes of students, faculty, and administration towards integration during the height of the Civil Rights Era.
"Archaeological Assessment of a Site Near the Alumni House and the Early College Boundary, College of William and Mary, City of Williamsburg, Virginia"
Prepared by William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research, Prepared for the Lemon Project
This report is an archaeological assessment of an investigation conducted by the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research of a parcel located near the Alumni House and the early College boundary. The work was undertaken to study a small parcel of what was likely the northwestern edge of the original 330 acres of College-owned land dating back to 1693. A previously unrecorded domestic site dating from the first half of the nineteenth century was found. This domestic site may have been associated with the Bright family's operation of a large farm on an adjacent property beginning circa 1839.
“Benjamin Franklin, the College of William and Mary, and the Williamsburg Bray School,” Anglican and Episcopal History 79
Terry L. Meyers, (December 2010), 368-393.
English professor Terry Meyers has recently conducted extensive research into the relationship between the Bray School – a free school in Williamsburg for free and enslaved blacks – and the university. Click here to see the full article.
"Brave Enough to be First: Exploring 50 Years of African Americans in Residence at William & Mary," September 15, 2017-June 30, 2018, Swem Library Exhition
Click here to view exhibition information and a photo gallery. When Janet Brown, Lynn Briley, and Karen Ely first moved into their freshmen dorms in Jefferson Hall at William & Mary, they were unaware of the significance of their presence. The three women were the first African Americans in residence at the college, a fact unbeknownst to them until they were interviewed for the Flat Hatnewspaper in October of their freshmen year. Prior to their arrival, African American students were rare and the few that were accepted were not allowed to live amongst their peers on campus. Fifty years have passed since these scholars began their studies in 1967. Since then, black students and faculty have built upon the legacy of these three women and those who came before them, creating spaces where members of the black community at William & Mary are able to thrive, succeed and support one another. William & Mary’s relationship with black students, faculty and staff has been anything but smooth. Brave Enough to be First serves to honor this legacy, to shed light on just how far we have come, and to inspire continued diversity and inclusion.
"Building a Legacy: A Sense of Place for the First Residential African Americans at William & Mary"
Branch Out Alternative Break Students, 2018
This exhibition features interviews with Karen Ely, Lynn Briley, and Janet Brown Strafer about their interactions with spaces and places at William & Mary. Though their stories reflect distinct barriers and challenges, they were also adamant that they had a normal college experience. They put their academics first, they enjoyed the beautiful campus, and they found friends and places to study. In the interviews, the students asked the Legacy 3 about three facets of student life: residential, academic, and social. Over time, the women’s experiences added layers of meaning to the spaces we currently share as a campus.
"Confederates on the Campus 'Dixie' and Secession"
Two long traditions on campus greeted the first black undergraduates who integrated William and Mary in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One had the school band playing “Dixie” at William and Mary football games as students and others stood to clap and sing along. Evidently no one questioned the practice until the week before the 1969 Homecoming Game, when students objected to the song as a “symbol of one of the worst periods in American history” and threatened to demonstrate and burn the Confederate flag in protest if the song was played at the Homecoming game. As a result, the College Band Director announced that the band would not play “Dixie” and, furthermore, the tune had been dropped from the band’s musical selections.
Another tradition was an annual parade of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, marching from the Colonial Capital to the intersection where Duke of Gloucester street meets the college campus and dressed in Confederate uniforms. There the fraternity president handed a sword to a member of the College administration to signify the fraternity’s temporary secession from the College for a weekend in Virginia Beach. In 1971, the College Vice-President who was to accept the sword, pronounced the parade and ceremonies “symbolic of the chivalry and traditions of the Old South. There is nothing racial in it at all.” The Black Student Organization disagreed and staged a counter demonstration, considering the event “an insult to the blacks on campus” and a symbol of “the perpetuation of traditional Southern prejudices.” Nevertheless, the tradition evidently continued for at least another decade.
Branch Out Alternative Break Students, 2019
The goal of this January 2019 public history project was to add to the history of the College by thinking through what it means to be a part of the University community at such important junctures in history, for example, the 50th anniversary of African Americans at W&M, the 100th anniversary of coeducation at W&M, the election of the first woman President of the College, the commemoration of 1619, and the installation of a memorial to the enslaved at W&M. Through collaborative research, we have written essays and accompanying syllabi that bring a critical perspective to these events.
Desegregation of Virginia Education Project (DOVE)
OId Dominion University, and Virginia’s academic libraries
The DOVE project was created to identify, locate, catalog and encourage the preservation of records that document Virginia’s school desegregation process. The scope of the project is records related to the desegregation of public and private schools in Virginia, grades K-12 and institutions of higher education. Librarian Beatriz Hardy of Swem Library has been instrumental in pursuing Dove’s initiatives here at the College.
"Eugenics at William & Mary"
Emma Bresnan, Undergraduate History Student
This report, written by undergraduate Emma Bresnan, details the rise of the Eugenics movement and its impact on William & Mary's biology department. The report discusses Donald W. Davis, the College's main eugenicist and a professor in the biology department.
"Freedom to Learn: African American Education in 20th Century Tidewater, VA"
Branch Out Alternative Break Students, 2016
This exhibit came out of a project made for the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg in celebration of their event Let Freedom Ring! Students from William and Mary's Branch Out collaborated with the Lemon Project to choose materials from Special Collections which would highlight African American education at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, and in the greater Tidewater region.
"Integration at Work: The First Labor History of the College of William and Mary"
Cindy Hahamovitch, Professor, Lyon G. Tyler Department of History
In this report, Cindy Hahamovitch discusses the slow process of change in the conservative town of Williamsburg in the twentieth century. William & Mary was one of the town's largest employers, and Hahamovitch details how it served to create and reinforce the racial divide and social disconnect between the city and the surrounding African American community.
"Integrating the College of William and Mary"
This report is an account of efforts made to integrate the university in the decade following the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a period of slow and halting progress. Two critical events in 1968 raised awareness of William and Mary as a segregated institution: the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the start of an investigation by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into discrimination at the College and efforts being made (or not) by the administration to comply with the Civil Rights Act. The HEW investigation eventually encompassed a lawsuit that reached the United States Supreme Court in 1971. Not until 1972, with changes at the top of the William & Mary administration, did the College begin to move toward embracing programs of affirmative action.
Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture
Publishers of erudite monographs and the William and Mary Quarterly. For cutting edge scholarship, check out their current publications and frequent colloquia.
"On Joe and the Burial Place(s) of the Enslaved at William and Mary"
Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus
In this piece Terry Meyers argues that a largely forgotten potter’s field in 18th and 19th Century Williamsburg was no doubt the final resting place for many blacks and indigent whites; he speculates that the site might also have been the burial place for at least some of those the College enslaved and explores that possibility in the case of Joe, whose burial was apparently outsourced in 1837. He also pulls together what we know about Joe and his labors at W&M.
"Paint Analysis Report 'Dudley Digges House,' 524 Prince George Street, Williamsburg, Virginia,"
Kirsten Moffit, Conservator and Paint Analyst
This paint analysis report of the Dudley Digges House at 524 Prince George Street, Williamsburg, Virginia, was done by conservator and paint analyst Kirsten Moffit in November 2017. The Dudley Digges house was bought by William & Mary and moved to its current site in 1930. Although the exact construction date is unknown, physical and documentary evidence suggest that it dates to the third quarter of the 18th century. The Associates of Dr. Bray might have used the house to Christianize local enslaved and free black children, including enslaved children owned by William & Mary, between 1760 and 1765.
"Slavery at the College of William and Mary," Encyclopedia of Virginia
Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, William & Mary
Meyers wrote this Enclopedia Virginia essay, which was published in May 2019.
"The Cultivation of the Black Experience: Student Voices at William and Mary, 1954-2014"
Tanisha Ingram, Undergraduate Student, Africana Studies Program
This 2014 report, written by Tanisha Ingram, was supported through the Charles Center Summer Research Grants and the Lemon Project.
The Middle Passage Project
Joanne Braxton, a professor of English, launched The Middle Passage Project in 1995 at William & Mary. The Project serves to explore the history and memory surrounding the transatlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas, and its representation in literature and the humanities.
The Williamsburg Documentary Project
The Williamsburg Documentary Project, created by American Studies Professor Arthur Knight, collects and preserves artifacts, documents, and memories of Williamsburg’s history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The paper material collected as part of the project is available in the Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library and the oral histories are available through the W&M Digital Archive. It includes a particularly rich representation of African American life and of special note are the dozens of oral history interviews conducted with black residents. Read the Project’s blog or peruse the digital archive.
“The World of Henry Billups: Jim Crow in Williamsburg”
Jody Allen, Assistant Professor of History
Henry Billups labored at William & Mary from 1888 until 1955, and he operated in two different worlds--on the campus he was the "Doctor of Boozeology"; at home he was a respected family man. This exhibit, on display until November 2011 in Swem Library’s Third Floor Rotunda Gallery, was curated by Professor Jody Allen's class "The World of Henry Billups." One part of the exhibit focuses on Billups, while three others explore the College, the community, and the struggle against change.
"Time Will And Should Tell All: A Century of the William & Mary Flat Hat"
Branch Out Alternative Break Students, 2017
This exhibit, "Time Will, and Should, Tell All: A Century of The William & Mary Flat Hat," explores the history of race relations, spanning from 1918 to the present, through the lens of education at the College. Our exhibit seeks to deconstruct harmful ideas about race, uncover hidden narratives and analyze the impact of activist and reactionist journalism of William & Mary’s student newspaper. Given the College’s history with segregation, few of the pieces we have included were written by African-American students. Nevertheless, as a group, we strived to complicate popular understanding of the College’s history by providing the journalistic perspectives on marginalized people, whose stories have been obscured.
"Thinking About Slavery at the College of William & Mary" William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Terry Meyers, 2013
This article surveys how people at William & Mary thought about slavery from the 18th C. into the 20th Century. At different, but sometimes overlapping, eras, the thinking included silence, delusional sentimentalizing, and, in the 18th C., under the impact of the Enlightenment, skepticism, however ineffectual.
"William & Mary Bursar's Books Through 1861"
Compilation by Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, William & Mary
In this compilation Terry Meyers excerpts all the allusions he could find relating to slavery in the existing Bursar’s Books through 1861. He sees some issues here with the ordering and recalls that the relationship of the actual pages was hard to deduce from the on-line presentation. Once again, this work is best regarded as a kind of index; reviewing the original account books might well be advisable.
"William & Mary Faculty Minutes to 1869"
Compilation by Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, William & Mary
In this compilation, Terry Meyers makes available all that he has found in the Minutes of the Faculty relating to slavery at the College. He covers the records from the 18th Century through 1869.