By Sarah Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Director, The Lemon Project
The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation invites you to a free virtual Lemon’s Legacies Porch Talk on Thursday, September 29, 2022. We’re hosting a screening and conversationabout A Crime on the Bayou.
The film screening of A Crime on the Bayou will begin at 4:30 p.m. ET and will be followed by a live virtual conversation with Nancy Buirski (director), Gary Duncan (film protagonist), and Lolis Eric Elie (Author, Filmmaker, Film Subject) at 6:00 p.m ET.
Written and directed by Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story, The Rape of Recy Taylor), this eye-opening documentary had its world premiere at the 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival and is the third film in the director’s trilogy profiling brave individuals who fought for justice in and around the Civil Rights era. Executive produced by Mike Jackson, John Legend, Ty Stiklorius and Austyn Biggers of Get Lifted Film Co and Regina K. Scully, Geralyn Dreyfous, Harlene Freezer, Jules Horowitz, Felicia Horowitz, Brenda Robinson, Amy Tiemann, Mark Trustin and Jamie Wolf. The film also features a new original song, “My Path” written and performed by Raphael Saadiq.
A Crime on the Bayou is the story of Gary Duncan, a Black teenager from Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans. In 1966, Duncan tries to break up an argument between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. He gently lays his hand on a white boy’s arm. The boy recoils like a snake. That night, police burst into Duncan’s trailer and arrest him for assault on a minor. A young Jewish attorney, Richard Sobol, leaves his prestigious D.C. firm to volunteer in New Orleans. With his help, Duncan bravely stands up to a racist legal system powered by a white supremacist boss to challenge his unfair arrest. Their fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and their lifelong friendship is forged.
Guest Post by Jennifer Stacy, Highland Council of Descendant Advisors, and Maria DiBenigno, Highland Postdoctoral Research Fellow
William & Mary’s Highland is a 535-acre historic site located in Charlottesville, Virginia and operated by the university. It is notable as the former plantation of the fifth U.S. President and W&M alumnus, James Monroe, as well as 53 women, men, and children who were enslaved by him. We know the names of some of these individuals; others we still seek to know.
Highland conducts ongoing research about its extant buildings and natural resources as well as ongoing community engagement. In 2016, Highland announced its discovery that Monroe’s house has been completely destroyed by fire, and the standing building was a separate Guesthouse built in 1818. This major site re-interpretation allowed us to have conversations about what historic sites get wrong and how we work to tell more truthful stories about the past. This discovery also helped connect Highland’s staff with members of the local descendant community whose ancestors were enslaved at Highland. In 2018, ten of these individuals formed the Highland Council of Descendant Advisors. The Council advises Highland staff on exhibit content, program planning, and community engagement through the concept of shared authority. Members present at regional conferences, including the Lemon Project’s Symposium, work with regional school systems, and interact with W&M students on a variety of topics, including food histories and on-campus concerns.
On Saturday, June 11, the Council hosted their first Descendants Day at Highland. It was an event long in the making. Attendees enjoyed a delicious lunch buffet from Ada’s Kitchen on Wheels, a local food truck owned by Highland descendant, Gloria Saylor, and named for her mother and Council member, Ada Monroe Saylor. The Council welcomed descendant groups and community members from all parts of Virginia, including our W&M partners at the Institute for Integrative Conservation, the Bray School Initiative, the Lemon Project, and Special Collections. Friends from the Historic Brattonsville Descendants Group traveled from their homes in Rock Hill, South Carolina to attend — the Council was so honored by their presence!
By Jajuan Johnson, Ph.D., Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate
The Oak Grove Baptist Church Historic District in northwest York County, Virginia was granted historic designation by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources leading up to the Juneteenth, a national holiday commemorating the ending of slavery, specifically in Texas on June 19, 1865. Placement on the state register of historic places and eligibility for national recognition is monumental in the church’s history dating back to the early 19th century. The following sites are associated with the Oak Grove Baptist Church Historic District: Oak Grove Baptist Church site on Rochambeau Drive, Oak Grove School site, Oak Grove Cemetery on Rochambeau Drive, and the current Oak Grove Baptist Church on Waller Mill Road.
The Lemon Project collaboration with Oak Grove Baptist Church emerged from the research of Ellie Renshaw, a recent graduate of the anthropology department. Her senior thesis, “Cultivation Through Excavation: Performing Community and Partnership in the Historic First Baptist Project” led to further revelations about “daughter churches” of the Historic First Baptist Church such as Oak Grove Baptist Church, St. John Baptist Church, New Quarter Baptist Church and Zion Baptist Church, all in the Williamsburg/York County area. She connected our team with Mrs. Collette Roots, a leader of the Friends of Oak Grove Baptist Church, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the church building, the two cemeteries tied to the church, and the history of the once Cooktown community where the church is currently located.
The church building and some members were once part of Magruder, a community of African Americans forcibly displaced during World War II to create Camp Peary, a military training ground. The series of forcible removals due to eminent domain resulted in the loss of place and community identity. Last fall, the church members invited Lemon Project researchers to assist with documenting its story through oral history. Generations of parishioners living and deceased were employed by William & Mary and are a critical part of the university’s history. A series of oral histories on the travesty of land loss, the disbanding of communities, and the dynamics of labor and class are unearthing stories tethered to the afterlives of slavery not only specific to Williamsburg but across the nation. Also, Derek Vouri-Richard, a Lemon Project American Studies Graduate Assistant, mined land records to trace the history of land ownership tied to Oak Grove Baptist Church during the turn of the twentieth century.
Recently, the Friends of Oak Grove Baptist Church provided a tour of the church and the historic cemetery, highlighting veteran burial sites dating back to the Civil War, for the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Community Curation team partnering with the Lemon Project to assist African American communities in curating their own stories. In keeping with the Lemon Project’s goal to be a national model of transformative community engagement and collaborative research, we continue to listen to the stories and assess the ways we can contribute to materializing the vision of our partners. Congratulations to Oak Grove Baptist Church Historic District on cementing its enduring legacy in the York County/Williamsburg area.
Dr. Jajuan Johnson, the Lemon Project Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate, has spearheaded the Lemon Project Genealogy Initiative. We will continue to hold workshops as part of our Summer Sankofa Series this summer. In early June, we had an insightful talk with Nicka Sewell-Smith. In July, Bessida Cauthorne White joins us for another virtual workshop. She will be presenting on “Recognizing and Sharing Family Treasures.”
Register here to attend this virtual workshop with Bessida Cauthorne White.
Below is the workshop description:
Bessida Cauthorne White will talk about the importance of “Recognizing and Sharing Family Treasures.” Family treasures are highly valued possessions that may have been passed down from generation to generation or they may be newly acquired. They hold special meaning and tell stories about family experiences. They can be almost anything, including jewelry, furniture, housewares, clothing and textiles, photographs, books and documents, photographs, tools, musical instruments, artwork, medals, awards, etc.
White will talk about determining what is a family treasure or heirloom, and she will also discuss how to document the history and significance of family treasures. She will discuss using family treasures to explore and communicate family history and shed light on the broader African-American story. She will share a myriad of treasures from her own family history journey and talk about how she uses them to engage others in the pursuit of family history. A handout for the session will include resources for identifying and preserving family treasures.
Bessida Cauthorne White (B.S., J.D.), has been a genealogist for more than forty years. She is a family historian for nine families and manages DNA results for more than forty persons. An independent community historian, she is co-founder and president of Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society and a founder of Greater Richmond-AAHGS. White has presented at numerous state, regional, and national workshops and conferences, and teaches genealogy courses at Rappahannock Community College. Recently she has managed several descendant projects, including the identification of the enslaved at Menokin (an 18th-century property in Richmond County, Virginia) and their present-day descendants. White has directed the research and application process for multiple state historical highway markers that reference African Americans in Eastern Virginia, and she presently has three markers at different stages of the application process. She is editor/co-editor of A Reunion of Recipes: The White Family Cookbook (1990), Help Yourself! There’s a God’s Mighty Plenty: A Treasury of Recipes from the Cauthorne & Brooks Families (First Edition 2000, Second Edition 2017), and Gather at the Welcome Table: The Angel Visit Baptist Church Sesquicentennial Cookbook (2016).
By Dr. Sarah Thomas, Associate Director, The Lemon Project
On May 20, 2022, the Lemon Project and the Hulon Willis Association hosted the Donning of the Kente ceremony during the Class of 2022 Commencement weekend. William & Mary’s Donning of the Kente ceremony began in 2012 as a rites of passage graduation celebration open to all graduating students. We are thankful and excited to celebrate the excellence, both personal and academic, of students of color. All graduating students are welcome to participate in this ceremony.
Many students have remarked that one of the aspects of the DOK that made it very special was the opportunity to choose their donner. The donning itself gives students the chance to not only celebrate their accomplishments, but also to recognize someone special in their lives. Students have chosen parents, siblings, friends, faculty, administrators, high school principals, and others to serve as their donners.
We want our graduates (undergraduates, graduate, and professional) to know that their relationship with the university does not end at graduation. A new chapter begins when you become an alumnus and we encourage you all to join the Hulon Willis Alumni Association. The Donning of the Kente Ceremony is the first step in this relationship.
Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved played an important role in this year’s ceremony. The Class of 2022 was the first class that began its procession to the DOK at Hearth. The graduates also gathered at Hearth for a group photo.
For those who will be graduating William & Mary in 2023, registration is now open! Check out the details and register now to receive a stole and participate in the 2023 DOK today.
The Lemon Project team is excited that genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith is joining us virtually on June 9, 2022, for “The Trifecta: The Secret Sauce of Researching the Formerly Enslaved.” Thank you to Dr. Jajuan Johnson, who leads the Lemon Project Geneaology Initiative. We’re glad that we can build on the 2021 Summer Sankofa Series Workshops and offer new topics in 2022.
Below is the workshop description that she shared with us:
“Genealogists and family historians alike have spent decades looking for a tried and true method for unearthing slaveholders of those enslaved prior to 1865. Learn how three crucial record sets (Civil War Pensions, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and Probates/Successions) can become just the wrecking ball needed to obliterate brick walls related to slavery.”
Interested in learning more about Ms. Sewell-Smith? Below is the biography from her website. Her website has a lot of useful information, including how to book a genealogy coaching session with her, how to connect with her Patreon community, and where and when she’ll be speaking.
“Nicka Smith is a professional photographer, speaker, host, consultant, and documentarian with more than 20 years of experience as a genealogist. She has extensive experience in African ancestored genealogy, reverse genealogy, and is expert in genealogical research in the Northeastern Louisiana area, and researching enslaved communities.
Nicka has diverse and varied experience in media with a background in audio, video, and written communications. She’s appeared on TODAY Show, CNN, MSNBC, on the series Who Do You Think You Are and has been interviewed by Oakland Tribune, The Undefeated, National Geographic, and TIME. She is the host of BlackProGen LIVE, an innovative web show with more than 125 episodes focused on people of color genealogy and family history.
She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, a member of two lineage societies (Sons and Daughters of the Middle Passage (SDUSMP), National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and a past board member of the California Genealogical Society (CGS) and the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC). Nicka served as the chair of the Outreach and Education Committee for AAGSNC, and is the former project manager for the Alameda County, CA Youth Ancestral Project where more than 325 youth were taught the value of family history.
Additionally, Nicka is the family historian and lead researcher for the Atlas family of Lake Providence, East Carroll, Louisiana and guides and coaches an active group of family historians at the Who is Nicka Smith Patreon community.
In 2009, Nicka launched ns2 photography following years spent as a happenstance photographer for the publications she worked on in high school and college. She utilizes a journalistic style while capturing high school seniors and weddings. Nicka’s work has been featured on The Africa Channel, Scrubs Magazine, The Bride’s Cafe, and The Oakland Post.”
By Dr. Sarah Thomas, Associate Director, The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation
William & Mary celebrated the dedication of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved on May 7, 2022. We are excited to share with you photos and the video from the event. Thank you to Skip Rowland, ’83 for the photos and Jeff Herrick and his team for the video.
By Derek Vouri-Richard, Lemon Project American Studies Graduate Assistant, 2021-2022
On May 23, 1899, husband and wife Samuel Harris and Joanna B. Harris sold land in the Burton District of York County, Virginia to Charles Bartlett, a Black miller and farmer. This land would become the present-day location of Oak Grove Baptist Church. Oak Grove grew out of the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, Virginia, which was founded by free and enslaved African Americans in the second half of the eighteenth century.
In the late nineteenth century, First Baptist members from York County began establishing their own religious meeting place in the Magruder neighborhood of York County. The Magruder neighborhood served as the home of Oak Grove from the turn of the twentieth century to the early 1940s. In the early 1940s, the Federal Government displaced the church by acquiring the land on which Oak Grove was located through eminent domain policies to develop a military complex. As a member of Oak Grove in the 1940s, Bartlett helped the church establish a new home by selling land he owned to the church. In 1949, Bartlett sold to Oak Grove the land he purchased from Samuel and Joanna Harris in 1899. The history of Oak Grove and the land on which it currently stands is part of the Black mobility and local economy of the Williamsburg area throughout the turn of the twentieth century.
Samuel and Joanna Harris were prominent Black business owners in Williamsburg. In the 1870s, they opened a retail store in Williamsburg, Harris’s Cheap Store. The store sold a variety of goods including dry goods, clothes, furniture and appliances, and clocks and jewelry. It attracted customers outside Williamsburg through the store’s proximity to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. The Harrises purchased land in Williamsburg and the surrounding area as their business grew. In early 1896 Samuel Harris purchased the York County land that he would later sell to Charles Bartlett in 1899. Harris purchased the land in 1896 in a public auction from Richardson Leonard Henley, Bathurst Dangerfield Peachy, and William Henry Edloe Morecock.
The real estate venture between Harris and Henley, Peachy, and Morecock connects the current Oak Grove land to white Williamsburg area residents and institutions of the late nineteenth century. Henley was a lawyer and judge with a law practice in the Williamsburg area. Peachy was a lawyer, owner of the Williamsburg Millinery Company, and real estate venturer. Morecock was a court clerk, merchant, and Secretary to the Board of Visitors for William & Mary from 1877 to 1890. More research needs to be done to further uncover connections between Oak Grove and its land and Williamsburg area people and institutions.
By Caroline Watson, Lemon Project Anthropology Graduate Assistant
A common expression in archaeological communities is that theoretical interpretation happens “at the trowel’s edge”. While this expression falls trite on my ears, what it implies is actually quite important for archaeologists, and those conducting research more broadly, to remember. There is no “neutral” moment in archaeological interpretation. Research questions are defined by specific and sometimes exclusive interests. Decisions regarding excavation locations tend to be controlled by the entity funding the work. Materials that come out of the ground are immediately observed and later classified according to object type and perceived function. Finally, where and how archaeological collections are stored also depends on the result of this interpretative process.
In some ways, this process is not purposefully harmful. I’d like to believe most archaeologists do their best to work with reference collections and available published literature to make sure they’re classifying their findings in the most appropriate ways. Nevertheless, artifact classification, especially when approached uncritically, becomes harmful through exclusionary acts. In the case of William & Mary’s archaeological collections, we know a lot about what types of artifacts were used on Historic Campus over the years, but we lack a critical inquiry about who these objects are associated with.
My ongoing documentary analysis of the records and reports relating to archaeology at William & Mary reveals that most archaeological work done on campus has not been guided by the interest to know more about William & Mary’s history with slavery. When archaeological projects at their very core are not designed to question or consider the African and/or African American presence on campus, then how will we ever be able to associate excavated materials with this identity? Archaeologists who assume a “neutral” identity for artifacts until proven otherwise end up, in one way or another, upholding the narrative of campus as an historically and predominately white, elite space. Neutrality is rarely possible. All objects are found within a geographical and sociocultural context. Thus, in a setting like William & Mary, when archaeological findings are taken “as is”, their neutral identity by default is white and colonial. In turn, the artifacts that get flagged as potentially embodying an African or African American identity on campus are the ones we view as being most obviously not white. The marble that was incised with an “X” design found in the north Wren yard has been interpreted as a potential gaming piece used by enslaved people. A cowrie shell, found nearby and within the same stratigraphic level (so, similar time period), may have been a piece of adornment or a medium of exchange for an enslaved person. We value these artifacts for the window, however so small, they provide into the material lives of enslaved people on campus. Yet, what about the tobacco clay pipes, clothing materials, and countless cooking and drinking vessels that have been found on campus in similar locations? We fail to link these materials to non-white identities, which further relegates African Americans on Historic Campus to the “unique” objects and thus margins of William & Mary’s material history. Without a critical examination of our own classification norms, there will never be a broader space for African Americans in William & Mary’s archaeological collections.
I propose we think of William & Mary’s campus and the materials that lie both above and underneath its surface, as an archive. This archive is not a neutral or passive place, but a carefully picked model and the result of several layers of power-laden decisions. Archaeologists working on campus and with campus artifacts hold one form of this power and thus face the certain decision to either uphold campus as a colonial archive or work to expose it. There is much work to be done to get at a more holistic understanding of the material lives of enslaved people at William & Mary. This may require more digging, or maybe it simply requires us to establish a new relationship with the collections we already have. Regardless, perhaps the question we can all start with is, “who are we doing this work for?”.
Image: Screenshot from Higgins III & Underwood 2001: 72, showing incised marble and cowrie shell.
 Higgins III, T.F. & J.R. Underwood (2001). Secrets of the Historic Campus: Archaeological Investigations in the Wren Yard at the College of William and Mary, 1999-2000. WMCAR Project No. 99-26. William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research. This is a really extensive report—I suggest checking it out!
 This idea was born out of a broader paradigm shift in archaeological theory that sought a more critical examination of the archeologists’ positionality, authority, and role in knowledge verification. If you’re curious about where this all started, see Hodder, Ian (1997) Always momentary, fluid and flexible: towards a reflexive excavation methodology. Antiquity 71: 691-700.
 There has been one archaeological excavation that specifically designed its research questions to address the history of slavery on campus. See Monroe, E.J. & D.W. Lewes (2016). Archaeological Assessment of a Site near the Alumni House and the Early College Boundary, College of William and Mary, City of Williamsburg, Virginia. WMCAR Project No. 15-07. William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research.
By Dr. Sarah Thomas, Associate Director, The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation
The dedication of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved is on Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m. We are excited about this monumental occasion and look forward to introducing Hearth to you all.
Thanks to the efforts of the Lemon Project Committee on Memorialization (LPCOM), led by Dr. Jody Allen, the Memorial Building Committee, co-chaired by Dr. Chon Glover, many William & Mary staff, faculty, and students, the architectural firm Baskervill, and the construction company Kjellstrom & Lee, and many, many others, Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved is nearing completion.
The bricks of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, and the bricks near Hearth tell stories about William & Mary’s past, present, and future.
As you approach Hearth, you’ll notice the darker granite bricks. Many of those granite blocks have names and dates on them. These are the names of enslaved people who were owned or rented by William & Mary or owned by people (Presidents, Board of Visitors members, Faculty, Staff, Students) during their time at the university. Many granite blocks are also engraved with the word “Unknown” and a date; some are engraved with “Unknown,” an occupation, and a date. In those cases, we had glimpses of enslaved people in archival records, but those keeping the records did not include their names. Some granite blocks have no names, known or unknown, or dates. When the Lemon Project team finds more enslaved people associated with William & Mary in the records (and we will!), their names will be engraved on those granite blocks.
You will also notice a small section of six bricks near the Hearth’s base. In contrast with the darker section of interior bricks near Hearth’s center, these bricks are framed and look old. They are! These are historic bricks, found by a team led by Dr. Susan Kern, then Executive Director of Historic Campus, in the summer of 2019. During a project to widen the brick pathway to the Wren Building, workers discovered an early 18th-century drain. The drain’s access point was unknown prior to June 12, 2019. Archaeologists Nick Luccketti ’71, Andy Edwards ’71, and William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research staff uncovered this drain and were able to view its interior. Enslaved people constructed this vaulted drain, accomplishing brickwork that required both skills and knowledge. Enslaved people also made the bricks. It is only fitting that historic bricks from this early 18th-century drain are forever part of Hearth. We can get a glimpse into the lives and labor of enslaved people in early 18th-century William & Mary through the drain bricks.
Having the Memorial within or directly engaging with Historic Campus is crucial. As you will see, the Memorial and the Wren Building are in conversation with each other. Enslaved people made the bricks that became the Wren Building, and enslaved people built (and rebuilt) the Wren Building. Enslaved people also lived in the Wren building, as did faculty, staff, and the President (until the President’s House in 1732). From fires and rebuilding to graffiti and repair, the bricks tell many stories about the Wren Building’s history, and enslaved people are a large part of that history.
Lastly, you have probably noticed that a brick wall surrounds much of the oldest part of campus. This wall was constructed in the 1920s and 1930s during the height of the Jim Crow era. Many African Americans who live in Williamsburg and the surrounding areas view this wall as a barrier between them and William & Mary. The Lemon Project team works to tear down physical walls (like this one) and walls in people’s minds while we build bridges between William & Mary and African American communities. Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved interrupts this brick wall, and during the groundbreaking, President Rowe, President Emeritus Reveley, and Robert Francis Engs Director of the Lemon Project Jody Allen tore down a section of the 1930s brick wall. This broken-through wall represents the Lemon Project’s work to build bridges and repair relationships through reconciliation and healing.
We can arrive at a more complete history of William & Mary. One way to do this is to explore the bricks in and around Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved. Join us as we use these bricks to tell stories about people of the university’s past, present, and future.
By Dr. Sarah Thomas, Lemon Project Associate Director
The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation has its origins in the work of William & Mary students. Students can make substantive and lasting changes. In 2007, then junior Tiseme Zegeye introduced Student Assembly legislation called The Research Into and an Apology for William and Mary’s Role in Slavery Act.
“The Student Assembly of the College of William and Mary – (1) Recommends that the Board of Visitors establish a commission to research the full extent of the College of William and Mary’s role in slavery (2) Recommends that the Board of Visitors express profound regret for William and Mary’s role in slavery (3) Establish a memorial for the contributions of slaves to the College of William and Mary
Sponsored by Senator Tiseme Zegeye of the Class of 2008
After the Faculty Assembly passed a similar resolution in 2008, the William & Mary Board of Visitors passed the resolution that led to the creation of the Lemon Project: A Journey of Resolution in 2009.
The Lemon Project is not an initiative that is the product of a single person, administrator, or department. Instead, we are a unit within the Office of the Provost, and we have the weight of the Provost and the Board of Visitors behind us and our work.
So what do we do? How do we rectify wrongs against African Americans by William & Mary through both action and inaction?
We listen and collaborate with members of the communities that surround us, especially members of African American communities. We work to build bridges between William & Mary and these communities who for so long have not felt welcome or that they belong at the university. The brick wall that surrounds the old sections of campus separates W&M from our neighbors, including a historically Black neighborhood. The Lemon Project team is working to tear down physical and metaphorical walls.
We research and study the experiences of African and African Americans, including slavery, Jim Crow, and all the way up to the present. We make our findings public through a variety of platforms, including social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn); the website; the Report on the First Eight Years; this blog; the YouTube channel; lectures; conferences; meetings; courses, and signature programs like the annual spring symposium and Lemon’s Legacies Porch Talks.
We are also making history public through Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved. Construction began on Hearth in the summer of 2021 and will finish in May 2022. This is a years-long project and involves the efforts of so many people. From the donors who funded this project to the Lemon Project team researchers who found the names of enslaved people in the archives, we are indebted to those who helped make this project possible.
We’ll write more about the Memorial next week but in the meantime, mark your calendars for the dedication of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved on May 7 at 2:00 p.m. Join us in the South Wren Yard for this important community-wide event where everyone (yes, everyone!) is welcome. This is one step of many towards reconciliation, repair, and belonging at William & Mary.
By Molly Shilo, 2020-2021 American Studies Graduate Assistant
As part of the Lemon Project’s mission to uncover the university’s role in perpetuating slavery and racial oppression, I have been conducting archival research through Special Collections and Colonial Williamsburg’s Rockefeller Library. Primarily, I have been looking through documents of some of William & Mary’s first presidents to ascertain whether they might have been enslavers and whether those enslaved people may have worked for, or been connected to, the College in any way. This research is crucial for a few different reasons. It could help unravel the College’s reliance upon slavery and relationship with enslaved individuals by illuminating how individuals presiding over the College during its formative years might have implemented policy and structured the College around their racist beliefs. Although the focus initially may be on the presidents themselves, this research will hopefully guide us towards better understanding the lives and experiences of enslaved people working for the College. Finally, this research connects broadly to histories of American institutions that were built upon, and only made possible, by the labor of enslaved people.
A great example is a letter written from Robert Saunders, Jr. to his wife, Lucy, on May 3, 1863. While Saunders begins with addressing the health of his children, he then turns to discussing the status of his enslaved people. Since the letter is written after the Emancipation Proclamation, he is focused on the individuals who had likely left the plantation. Although he mentions concerns over “Jim” who has run away before and “Molly” who he has not heard from, he confirms that most of the “servants” left behind in Williamsburg are still in their place.
While Saunders is concerned with the loss of labor and income from the enslaved people he owns and has hired out, this letter provides glimpses into the lives of those enslaved people. We learn that “Jim” has previously escaped but was unfortunately returned to Saunders’ home. There is also a suggestion that he potentially has influenced other enslaved people to attempt to run away. We learn that one of his enslaved men, “Sam,” was “hired at the lunatic asylum,” demonstrating a specific job often not spoken about. Additionally, we hear of “Jacob” who left with his wife, an enslaved woman owned by Mrs. Tucker. Finally, we hear gossip that a neighbor’s slave, Fanny, likely ran off with her husband. These brief mentions provide insights into intimate relations between the enslaved, their decisions about remaining or staying after the Emancipation, and the uncertainty about what exactly was going to happen.
Although this correspondence is after Saunders’ tenure as president of the College, it still demonstrates that he was an enslaver at some point during his life— and likely during his involvement with the College. This letter, and the rest of his correspondence contained in the archives at Swem’s Special Collections, is just one way to unravel his past, his impact on the College, and his beliefs and actions regarding slavery and race.
By Molly Shilo, 2020-2021 American Studies Graduate Assistant
Let me introduce myself: my name is Molly Shilo, and I was the American Studies Graduate Assistant for the Lemon Project during the 202-2021 academic year.
When I became the graduate assistant for the Project and learned more about the research they wanted me to take up this semester, I was really excited. Coming from an American Studies background with an undergraduate degree in English and media studies, I had no previous experience doing archival research, but I had read numerous monographs and articles lamenting the violent erasure within the archive, especially when it comes to the period of American slavery. Yet, I couldn’t shake the image I had of being in the archives, sitting at a table, sifting through old, faded papers, and hoping to come across something groundbreaking.
However, archival research isn’t exactly like that — and definitely not during a pandemic. Instead, I was searching through the Special Collections database, compiling a spreadsheet of different folders and boxes that seemed most relevant, and submitting requests to our archivists to digitize whatever materials they could. Once those scans arrived in my inbox, I then had the (sometimes tedious) task of trying to transcribe illegible scribbles and discern the contents of letters, diaries, account books, and other papers that people had left behind. I think this was the most difficult, and least anticipated, part of this research. It seemed almost impossible at times to decipher someone’s handwriting, no matter how long I may have stared and stared.
Although this research didn’t necessarily turn out the way I had imagined, that wasn’t a bad thing. Instead, it gave me a newfound appreciation for how complicated, taxing, and difficult this work is. It is one thing to learn about theories of the archive or to read historical monographs that have grown out of this initial stage of research, but there is no better way to recognize its frustrations and joys except for getting in there yourself.
By Derek Vouri-Richard, 2021-2022 American Studies Graduate Assistant
My exhibit, Rising and Falling Families: Reframing Race and Capitalism in Virginia’s New South looks at different Virginia families from the New South to interrogate the relationship between economic changes and racial dynamics in Virginia after the Civil War and Reconstruction period. During this period Southern markets incorporated into a developing national economy through creating new institutions, laws, and business relations. These changes affected families in different ways. Often, the relationship between New South families and the larger social context differed based on race. As Virginia modernized, Black people and organizations entered a growing political economy in which White families had built infrastructures of wealth and power across generations. Around the turn of the century, Black businesses, colleges, and families became the institutions through which Black citizens entered the free market and challenged historical ideologies embedded within the economy.
Rising and Falling Families analyzes four historical events from Virginia’s New South economy, with a specific eye on the people and families involved in shaping these events. The first section of the exhibit analyzes the formation of the Jamestown Exposition Company in 1902 by men of the Old South aristocracy. The second section looks at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, which celebrated the 300th anniversary of the English settlement of Jamestown. In the third section, the exhibit considers the rise of a new social class of business owners in the New South by illuminating Samuel Harris of Williamsburg, Va. and Edward L. Stone of Roanoke Va. The exhibit’s final section explores Williamsburg’s twentieth-century Black business district by foregrounding one of the families who were crucial to developing this economic region, the Webb-Williams family.
By Caroline Watson, Anthropology Graduate Assistant, 2019-present
Database is a bodiless concept, recognizable to many but whose boundaries are difficult to define. Most broadly, our minds and memories are databases that constantly update, however imperfectly, as we see, read, and experience new things. In the scholarly sense, databases are paper or digital places that store key details of a person, object, location, or event. Both of these definitions underscore that databases are sources of information and a central home to multiple types of data that derive from other, diverse sources. Recognizing the form and function of databases is indeed a first step in learning how to think about them critically.
One labor of love The Lemon Project is currently undertaking is the construction of an archaeological database, which I am helping to design as part of my graduate research fellowship. This database will host information relating to the findings from archaeological excavations that have taken place on William & Mary’s campus since the 1930s. In other words, it will be a lengthy and descriptive list of artifacts that have been found on campus. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to populate this database with every individual artifact that has been unearthed over the past almost century. Norms and regulations surrounding both artifact documentation and preservation of excavation forms have changed over the decades, thankfully now holding archaeologists more accountable for their work. To this end, the task of tracking down the artifact inventories that are dispersed throughout different archaeological companies and organizations has been a challenge in itself and is still ongoing. William & Mary itself houses archaeological and documentary collections that are independent from collections that reside in specific departments, making it all the more complicated to round up and access these data. Once I obtain artifact inventories from archaeological reports, I face the difficulty of standardizing this information into our own database-specific categories. This requires the creation of a standardized system of codes and categories that I will apply to all artifact entries. It is important to recognize the role personal judgment plays here. These codes and categories directly determine the type of information we are extracting from each artifact, and thus the extent of future knowledge about that object. If I decided to label every pottery sherd (not shard!) as simply ceramic, I would miss the crucial distinctions between styles like stoneware, pearlware, and Chinese porcelain, which each have their own temporal and geographic implications. Alternatively, recording every possible detail of an artifact may paralyze the progress of database construction and result in a mass of data that is not necessarily useful to anyone. Navigating this fine line is my current job as someone designing the database. My approach has been to think critically about what details of artifacts are most relevant and can answer the widest variety of research questions, now and in the future. Certainly, The Lemon Project intends for this database to not only spotlight that William & Mary has its own archaeological collections, but also engage future archaeological research projects that highlight the presence of enslaved peoples on campus and focus on the materiality of enslaved life ways and experiences.
By Derek Vouri-Richard, 2021-2022 American Studies Graduate Assistant
I am a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. My areas of specialization are media studies, visual culture studies, cultural studies, film studies, the history of American capitalism, and the history of American media. My research looks at the ways in which American businesses were developing new forms of literacy and visual learning in the first half of the twentieth century. My research and areas of specialization relate to the Lemon Project in that I am interested in the ways in which developing market relations intersect with cultural dynamics such as race and gender. My role in the Lemon Project involves researching with documents that reveal enslaved people who were associated with the college from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century. These documents come from sources connected to William & Mary and sources outside the college. William & Mary documents that have helped the Lemon Project better understand the ways in which slavery has shaped the college’s history include bursar account records, faculty minutes books, former president’s account books, and ephemeral material such as a list of slaves owned by the college from the eighteenth century. Sources outside of William & Mary that have contributed to the Lemon Project research include the Bruton Parish Church, the Virginia Gazette, the William and Mary Quarterly, and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Through accumulating these sources the Lemon Project hopes to build a comprehensive database that will facilitate ongoing knowledge about the history of race and slavery at William & Mary and in Williamsburg.
By Dr. Sarah Thomas, Lemon Project Associate Director
The Lemon Project team is busy preparing for our upcoming Symposium—it’s less than two weeks away! This will be an in-person and virtual event and our first in-person event during the COVID era. We are looking forward to coming together around the theme, “The Time is Now: The Lives of Black Men Past, Present, and Future.” Registration is free, and we will be providing breakfast and lunch on March 25 and March 26.
Why are we focusing on the lives of Black men?
The following is excerpted from the Call for Proposals, written by Dr. Jajuan Johnson, our Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate. “The lives of Black men are valuable. The purpose of this symposium is to center the realities of Black men past and present while imagining future possibilities. In the words of Black Male Studies scholar T. Hasan Johnson, we plan to “delve into the lives of Black males beyond stereotypes, conjecture, and opinion.”
“The symposium prompts us to pause and listen to the stories of Black men across time, age, class, region, and sexuality. Given the historical marginalization of Black males and the evident atrocities over the past decade with the violent deaths of Black men and boys, there is an urgency to lean into the humanity of Black men and imagine a future where they (we) can thrive in all realms of life.”
Dr. Tommy Curry and Kiese Laymon are joining us in Williamsburg for keynote talks—Dr. Curry on March 25 at 6 pm ET and Mr. Laymon on March 26 at 9:00 am ET. After each of their keynotes, Dr. Curry and Mr. Laymon will be signing books, which you can purchase from the William & Mary Bookstore on site.
Plenary Session—The Time is Now: The Lives of Black Men
Dr. Daniel Black, Dr. T. Hasan Johnson, and Dr. O’Shan Gadsden will serve as panelists for the plenary session, “The Time is Now: The Lives of Black Men Past, Present, and Future,” on the morning of Friday, March 25. Dr. Jamel Donnor, of the William & Mary School of Education, will be the moderator. Dr. Jajuan Johnson notes that “the panelists bring various perspectives with backgrounds in Black Male Studies, psychology, and Africana Studies. They will present facts challenging enduring stereotypes that dehumanize Black men and boys, offer insight on present inequities, and discuss ways Black men are transforming themselves and their communities. Lastly, they will provide visions that improve the lives of Black males based on their areas of expertise.”
Future of Ethnic Studies
On March 25 at noon, the Asian Centennial and the Lemon Project join together for a panel discussion on Ethnic Studies in Virginia. During this year of celebrating the accomplishments of the first Asian students at William & Mary, we also look forward to a more inclusive future. Our panelists are Monika Gosin, Krystyn Moon (from the University of Mary Washington), Laura Guerrero, Steve Prince, and Chinua Thelwell.
Interdisciplinary and Multi-disciplinary Panels
In addition to the keynotes, plenary session, and the Ethnic Studies panel, there are 11 panels on a variety of topics given by presenters who are community members, scholars, researchers, genealogists, working professionals, and students. From folks sharing their genealogy and family histories to students sharing their summer research and discussions of Black professionals in the corporate world to cell phone videos and police violence, these panels are real, timely, and offer a roadmap of where Black males have been, where they are now, and what the future could hold.
Everyone is welcome! Registration is free, and we’re providing breakfast and lunch for in-person attendees on March 25 and March 26.
As always, everyone is welcome to attend. Please share the Symposium with your friends, family, and anyone else who might be interested in this two-day multi-disciplinary conversation about Black men past, present, and future.
By Caroline Watson, Anthropology Graduate Assistant, 2019-present
Receiving the Lemon Project research fellowship in Fall 2019 was one of the reasons I was most excited to attend William & Mary as an incoming master’s student in archaeology. At that time, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be continuing with the Lemon Project team 3 years later as a doctorate student! Although my Ph.D. research is focused on pre-contact chiefdoms in French Polynesia (think 14th to 18th century), I was equally eager to dive into a project that highlighted the archaeology of the more recent past, especially that of the university and community into which I was entering. Since my very first day working with the Lemon Project team, I have never thought of my work as simply fulfilling the requirements for my fellowship. Rather, I am deeply engaged in and committed to the Lemon Project’s goals of broadening our knowledge of William & Mary’s history with slavery as well as using this research to build a safer, more inclusive community within the university and beyond.
As an archaeologist, I am tasked with the attempt to understand William & Mary’s history of slavery through a material lens. While archaeologists certainly utilize the archival record, what sets us apart from other disciplines is our attention to the materiality of history—the objects, architecture, and even soil stains that people leave behind. A place like William & Mary has never really been abandoned. For one, indigenous peoples resided in this space long before the College’s formation in 1693, and even the brief hiatus in an academic administrative presence during the Civil War still saw an active occupation of the campus landscape (Higgins III 2014: 15). Nevertheless, while many buildings remain grounded in the same location, the areas in between them have been constantly renovated and re-designed over the years, through renovation and landscaping projects. The Sunken Gardens, for instance, were not constructed until 1935, which raises questions about what occupied that area before all that earth was moved. All of this makes it pretty difficult to get a direct “snapshot” of what campus looked like during the years it was engaged in the practice of slavery, since we have to peel back several layers of these physical changes.
Documentation of archaeological work performed on campus since the 1930s helps us get closer to the material and architectural history of 18th and 19th century William & Mary, in the hopes of gaining a fuller understanding of the context in which enslaved peoples worked and lived here. Thus, my principal work as the Lemon Project Anthropology Graduate Fellow is to work directly with these documents and build a database that stores their information and makes this material history accessible to all. Stay tuned for more detail about this database!
Sources Cited: Higgins III, T.F. (2014). The Civil War at William and Mary: Archaeological Data Recovery in the Brafferton and Wren Yards, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research. WMCAR Project No. 12-19.
By Jajuan Johnson, Ph.D., Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
In partnership with James Blair Middle School, the Lemon Project guided over a dozen students in genealogical research and exploring African American history in the Historic Triangle area. The camp, held July 13 – 15, 2021, had the theme “Black History Matters.” One of the main goals of the camp was for students to have a tangible experience with history through interaction with primary sources, family stories, and scientific experimentation.
The camp kicked off with students participating in a DNA experiment using strawberries led by William & Mary’s Biology department professor Dr. Shanta’ Hinton and her laboratory graduate students. Archivists from Special Collections at William & Mary’s Swem Library brought history alive with a mix of 18th and 19th-century photos, documents, and books at exhibit stations.
Genealogical research was a significant component of the camp. The learners received two days of intense training on the importance of genealogical research, ways to find documents on databases, such as Ancestry.com, and tips on interviewing family members. An essential partner in the process of family history instruction was Williamsburg Regional Library. WRL’s Reference Librarian Rachel Nelson guided students in accessing the research databases and discussed other resources available at the library, such as library hot spots and telescopes.
The camp culminated with a special showcase of their family history research projects. There are so many beautiful highlights to write about, but we encourage you to check out the video below to hear and see firsthand the transformative experiences of our learners. We are looking for hosting future summer programs where students will have the opportunity to spend time on our historic campus.