By Jajaun Johnson, Ph.D., Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate
The Lemon Project is a model for other universities studying slavery and its legacies. The team recently participated in an opportunity to exchange lessons with Clemson University’s Woodland Cemetery and African American Burial Ground Historic Preservation Project and the Call My Name Project, both led by Professor Rhondda Robinson Thomas.
The three-day visit convened students, faculty, staff, and community partners who traded ideas and best practices on archaeology, participatory research, and community collaboration. “The opportunity to exchange ideas with our Clemson University colleagues was a gift. We highlighted the work of our outstanding students and on and off-campus partners,” Jody Allen, the Francis Engs Director of the Lemon Project, said.
The meeting started with a dinner and a dynamic conversation with the Friends of the Reservation, Coming to the Table Historic Triangle, Divine Concept Group, Inc., the Bray School Lab, All Together, and the Village Initiative. Each representative discussed their organization’s or project’s mission and goals and outlined how they are spurring change in the public history landscape and through civic engagement. The group was officially welcomed to William & Mary by Dr. Chon Glover, the Chief Diversity Officer who recognized the work of the Lemon Project. She further discussed the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The Lemon Project interns and students who participated in the incubator grant program gave examples of their research and experiential learning opportunities. The graduate assistants led a session with the Clemson University graduate students on their archival and anthropological contributions to the study of slavery at W&M.
W&M Special Collections granted our guests access to rare documents project researchers use to find the names and details about the people once enslaved by the university. Andre Taylor, William & Mary’s oral historian, demonstrated the uses of oral history to document African American foodways. Steve Prince, Artist and Director of Engagement at Muscarelle Art Museum, guided the group in a communal quilt-making exercise where they exchanged stories as a team-building exercise. Our visitors also had a chance to meet President Rowe and hear her thoughts about the importance of the universities studying slavery movement.
In addition to the W&M’s Historic Campus tour, the Clemson group visited the First Baptist Archaeological Site, Bruton Heights School, and the Historic Oak Grove Baptist Church. Both university projects amplify the voices of the descendant communities, and visits to these sites provide an authentic connection to people interpreting their spaces and environments.
After reflecting on the experience, Dr. Rhondda Thomas offered gratitude: “Thank you for organizing such a rich, informative, and enlightening visit for Clemson’s cemetery team. I’m still thinking about many things we heard from you and your community partners and viewed on and off campus. I’m so glad we were able to come.”
The Lemon Project and Clemson University exchange is part of our ongoing efforts to share best practices and facilitate collaboration locally, regionally, and internationally on the study of slavery and its legacies.