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Celebrating Black History Month in the Archives

Dr. Jajuan Johnson and Sierra Manga, the Lemon Project intern for Spring 2024, are starting Black History Month at William & Mary Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. They are making major findings on African Americans who worked at William & Mary in the early twentieth century.

For example, Dr. Johnson and Ms. Manga found an invoice to the college from Samuel Harris’s Dry Goods’ Store. Harris was a wealthy African American businessman who lived in Williamsburg in the late 1800s. His store remained open after the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention, which disenfranchised African Americans in the commonwealth. Harris died in 1904 and is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery. We look forward to sharing more findings at the Lemon Project Genealogy Research Roundtable on February 15th at 6 pm.

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Undiscovering the Archive

By Shawna Alston, Summer 2022-2023 Charles Center Incubator Research Student         

Archival research is a fully involved, tedious effort usually begun in an attempt to find something elusive or undiscovered. Deciding to embark on the journey of exploring university, local, or private archives requires a research question worth the effort, I asked myself, “what’s worth knowing, and more importantly, what’s so worth knowing that I should decide to tame the beast that is Special Collections under renovation and the Flat Hat digital archive?”

After discussions with Drs. Jody Allen, Sarah Thomas, and Robyn Schroder, I had first decided to reinvigorate the research I had done last summer with the Lemon Project and attempt to make new connections or discoveries. I spent seven weeks last summer connecting physical campus landmarks with their disembodied laborers, or, who built what; when, where, and why, and for how much? I focused solely on the time right before, during, and directly after the Great Depression, during which much of campus was erected. I found myself barely engaging with The Archives last summer, as most of my research existed in easily accessible, public domains. I was able to seamlessly pull a research project together with the literature provided by the Lemon Project and the financial records and campus maps I got from my one visit to Special Collections. My product, an interactive StoryMap, detailed my research and potential caveats for future research.

Before my exploration into the archive, I had settled on the research topic of Black performance culture on a campus where Black students had yet been granted permission to attend, meaning William & Mary’s campus before 1969, when the first Black undergraduate students in residence arrived. Simply put, think Chitlin Circuit meets William & Mary. I wanted to know who was asked to perform, why, and who was allowed to attend these performances. More broadly, I wanted to (see if I could) connect these performances and the culture surrounding them to the afterlife of minstrelsy and minstrel theater. On top of this, I was tasked with combing through the digital archive of William & Mary’s premier newspaper, The Flat Hat.

With this experience under my belt, I knew that my research journeys this summer would pose no real challenge. I had this idea that archival research is a lot like “book” research, or reading things, making inferences, and drawing conclusions. I was wrong, but not because I lacked work ethic or proper motivation, but because The Archive, or the collection of written record and evidence of existence, is a segregated institution.

With a goal in mind and a resource in hand, I began what I thought was going to be an easily curated research project. I set abstract time boundaries, from 1915 to 1945, and began perusing The Flat Hat for any evidence of a Black musical performer/performance group. Ask me what I found…no, go ahead…ask. Nothing. I spent about a week keyword searching The Flat Hat and combing through every released issue between the aforementioned dates. I found nothing. I scheduled an appointment with Special Collections and spent hours combing through boxes of old photographs, programs for on-campus productions, costume sketches, and student organization archived files; anything you could think of, I went through it. And yet, nothing. I spent the following weeks shifting the boundaries of my time period and repeating the process as the previous week. And still, I found nothing.

My research teammate, Fatoumata Sissoko, was responsible for combing through The Colonial Echo archives and everything I was looking for, she found. I had shifted my time period from 1915-1945 to 1960-1975, and Fata had found a well of information in a few snapshots in The Colonial Echo. Below is the list, in chronological order, of Black performers who visited the campus between 1960-1975:

1966
The Shirelles performed (70)
1967
Chuck Berry performed for Homecoming (21, and another page)
Mention of Dionne Warwick and the Four Tops insinuating they also visited and performed (21)
1968
The Drifters performed for Homecoming (41)
Wilson Pickett performed for Homecoming (41)
1970
Martha and the Vandellas perform for Homecoming concert (33)
The Impressions perform for the Spring Finals formal (39)
1974
Taj Mahal- musical artist (56)
Black culture week (103)
Guests include James Brown and African dance group (57)
1975
 Sly Stone (188)
The Platters (208)
Jackson Five canceled because of low tickets sales (209)
George Macrae performed (209)
BSO pages (290)

            This information was the most useful information I had discovered in all of my research endeavors, so my next goal was cross-referencing this information with anything I could find in The Flat Hat digital archive. I went through each of these respective years in The Flat Hat archive and tried to find even the slightest detail, like a time or place, or a review of the show. I found nothing. I cross-referenced and cross-referenced and cross-referenced and found…nothing. Nothing for big names like Dionne Warwick or James Brown or Chuck Berry. I looked and searched and looked and searched and the only thing I found were advertisements for Roses or alumni run beer companies.

            This frustrated me to know end. If The Colonial Echo has proof that these things exist, why doesn’t The Flat Hat? Why doesn’t The Flat Hat have any proof of Black life beyond Duke Ellington coming to visit in 1959? I was faced with the discovery of undiscovery and what that says about the sociopolitical climate of campus at the time and how that was reflected in how history was recorded. I was faced with no findings as my findings. What I didn’t find says so much more than what I could’ve found.

            A larger conversation about the institution of the Archive and its anti-Blackness and segregation is a conversation that I’m willing to have. Going forward, my plan is to engage critical scholarship on the anti-Blackness of recorded history, and more specifically, whose history gets to be recorded, and who gets to be remembered.

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Researching Rev. L.W. Wales, Jr.

by Olivia Blackshire, an Independent Study student with Dr. Jody Allen

When I started an independent study with Dr. Allen, I was not quite sure what to expect. I was familiar with research papers and searching databases; however, being on assignment for the serious inquiries of a family was a big deal. For the next 15 weeks, I spent time ̶ at the request of Ms. Wilhelmina White ̶ researching the life and times of the Wales family, specifically L.W. Wales, Jr. Both Rev. Wales, Sr., and Rev. Wales, Jr., were activists and leaders in this community, and surrounding their lives was an eagerness to know how they impacted the world around them. Filled with excitement and a responsibility to piece together the family’s story in Williamsburg, I began my research.

I found the story of Rev. Wales, Jr., by first reading about the man who set the foundation for his life, his father. L.W. Wales, Sr. (1860 – 1927) was not only a pastor at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church for 42 years, but was also a pillar of the community. As principal of Williamsburg Public School Number Two and a teacher in various counties, he was active in the educational realm and perhaps planted the seed for Bruton Heights School, an all-Black high school, since he talked about that and about plans for funding in his Brief Autobiographical Sketch.[1] He also published a leaflet called The Peninsula Churchman, which detailed his church work and school-building efforts. He rubbed elbows with lots of people, including Benjamin S. Ewell, a former Confederate general and former president of William & Mary.[2] Furthermore, L.W. Wales, Sr. was financially well off; tax records showed that he was one of the highest earners in his area[3], and he “succeeded in buying a considerable amount of real estate, holding and owning some in almost every section of the city of Williamsburg and some in Newport News.”[4]

Considering such a track record, L. W. Wales, Jr., (1895-19654) had big shoes to fill. Although his legacy was not like his father’s, he made an impact. Picking up the mantle as pastor after his father’s death in 1927, Rev. Wales, Jr. worked for Mt. Ararat for 36 years, doing much for the relocation and beautification of the church during his tenure.[5] According to the 1982 Mt. Ararat Baptist Church Centennial Anniversary Souvenir, Rev. Wales Jr., worked within schools alongside his wife, Evelyn Wales. A report by historian Linda H. Rowe describes him as an advocate for the construction of James City Training School, a predecessor of Bruton Heights School.[6] He too even made his mark in real estate, having enough property to create the Wales subdivision housing for low- and moderate-income families in the 1940s.[7]

There were a lot of memorable moments from this search. Anytime I’d find new information, especially an image, I always felt like I was discovering more pieces to the puzzle. I’m also grateful for the people I met along the way, like Sidney (a graduate student working with the Lemon Project), Earl T. Granger III (Colonial Williamsburg’s Chief Developmental Officer), and Clifford B. Fleet III (Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO) during a trip to the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library.

Two significant thoughts come to mind as I reflect on my studies with Dr. Allen. For one, history is a form of detective work. Sometimes the whole thing feels like you’re trying to crack a cold case. You’re digging through information that’s been mistreated (physically in the archive or historically through erasure), and the clues you need are not always readily available. Interpreting or making connections with limited time or facts is a tall order. Yet those who take on the challenge may be the only ones preventing someone’s story from fading into obscurity.

I also found that if one works in this field, one must be flexible to change; sometimes the search doesn’t end the way you expect, and that’s okay. Although I didn’t find or get through as much as I wanted, I still managed to learn about the church’s history and the Wales’ place in it and the surrounding communities. You may not find what you’re looking for, but the process you take to get there, and the things you find along the way, are just as rewarding. Those quotes about the journey being better than the destination may have some merit after all.


[1] Herbert and Doris Crump Rainey Papers, 1945-2013, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

[2] Brief Autobiographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Rev. L. W. Wales, D.D (1910) from Herbert and Doris Crump Rainey Papers, 1945-2013, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

[3] James City County and Williamsburg City Personal Property Books, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.

[4] Brief Autobiographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Rev. L. W. Wales, D.D (1910) from Herbert and Doris Crump Rainey Papers, 1945-2013, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

[5] Herbert and Doris Crump Rainey Papers, 1945-2013, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

[6] “A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights School, Williamsburg, Virginia” by Linda Rowe (1997). https://research.colonialwilliamsburg.org/DigitalLibrary/view/index.cfm?doc=ResearchReports%5CRR0373.xml&highlight=negro

[7] Williamsburg Reunion Booklet (2012) from Herbert and Doris Crump Rainey Papers, 1945-2013, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

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My Semester with Dr. Allen: The Intrinsic Benefits of In-Depth Historical Research

by Nicholas Prather, Lemon Project Spring 2023 intern

Booker T. Washington. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016857180/
Front Page Clipping of The Flat Hat, November 17, 1914 (Vol. IV, No. 7)

Over this past semester, I spent two to three hours each week working as a research intern with Lemon Project Director Dr. Jody Allen. During my experience, I learned about the inevitable bumps in the road that come with careful historical research. However, over the four months we spent together, I feel I also came to appreciate those roadblocks and understand their purpose when it comes to discovering something meaningful ̶ something that can change the scope of what we know. When we started working together in the first few weeks of the semester, we initially focused our research on the exploits of nineteenth-century Wiliam & Mary Chemistry Professor Dr. John Millington, specifically his alleged experimentation on Black children in the Williamsburg area through some sort of shock therapy. But, as we sifted through dozens of pages of old correspondence in the Special Collections Reading Room, not to mention pages of nearly incomprehensible cursive that needed deciphering, we learned that it may not be as feasible as we thought to come to any conclusions about Millington, given how much careful close reading it would require. But failure to get immediate results in research, albeit a regularity, is never really a failure – it’s an inherent and important part of the process. After spending a few non-fruitful weeks on Millington, we decided to start looking at the history of illustrious Black educator and speaker Booker T. Washington’s history and relationship with William & Mary. Using Special Collections’ digital archives, I uncovered two separate Flat Hat articles (it’s amazing when your school newspaper is so historic to where it can be a reliable primary source!) that described two separate visits Washington made to the College in 1913 and 1914, just before his death in 1915. Under the presidency of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, both students and faculty were let off from classes to witness Washington’s awesome speeches in the Williamsburg Chapel and Courthouse. After weeks spent devoid of results, it was quite fulfilling to learn that a figure so pivotal to race relations in Gilded Age America had a relationship with the William & Mary administration.

In the end, even though there is still far more that can be wrung out of the research into both Millington and Washington, my semester with Dr. Allen was still a uniquely enriching experience. The growth mindset necessary for productive research can be stunted when we expect to see immediate results. Careful and critical historical research requires patience, precision, and pathos, none of which can be expected mere days or weeks into the process. And when we start thinking of research as steps in an inherently beneficial process that tempers our character and critical thinking alike, regardless of “success” or “failure” (whatever that means), that is when we truly start to see the fruits of our labor manifest themselves in personal and intellectual growth.

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New Lemon Project Research Findings on Slavery at William & Mary

by Dr. Jajuan Johnson

Lemon Project team members work daily to fulfill the mission of expanding the narrative of African Americans with historical ties to William & Mary. In the area of slavery research, we are accomplishing our goals of learning more about people enslaved by the university through genealogical research, community engagement, and rigorous archival research. Despite challenges ranging from scant information to destroyed records, persistence often leads to re-discoveries in centuries-old records warranting careful analysis.

Over the past two years, the Lemon Project Genealogy Initiative has built alliances with researchers in Williamsburg, the greater Tidewater area, and globally. Through training, our student interns help mine digital platforms and special collections to find extant sources providing more data about the lives of people once enslaved by the university. In fall 2022, Margaret Perry, a W&M alumnus and researcher at Colonial Williamsburg’s’ Apothecary Shop, met with Dr. Jody Allen, Lemon Project intern Alex Montano, and me to share medical account records that list names of people enslaved by William & Mary in the Galt Papers (Galt-Barraud Partnership, 1782-1799; John M. Galt I & Alexander D. Galt Operating as Galt & Son,1800-1808; and Alexander Galt, 1809 – 1841) located in the Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library.   

The Galt Family Medical Practice

The Galt family medical practice lasted in the Williamsburg and Yorktown area from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth centuries. Dr. John Minson Galt, I was educated at William & Mary and received medical in Edinburgh and Paris. In addition to his extensive independent medical practice, whereby he treated people enslaved by William & Mary and others, Galt I was also an attending physician of the Public Hospital of Williamsburg (currently Eastern State Hospital), the first psychiatric hospital in the United States. His son, Dr. Alexander D. Galt, and grandson of Dr. John M. Galt, carried on his practice; both served as superintendents of the hospital.[i]

The Findings

The Galt-Barraud Papers are the professional and personal papers of the Galt family of Williamsburg in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The preliminary findings in the medical ledgers, notably the W&M account, revealed the following:

  • The names of 28 people enslaved by W&M
  • Lemon, who the Lemon Project is named after, is listed in the records 19 times from 1785 to 1814, indicating that he experienced health complications over a long period leading to his death.
  • Six people not previously on our list appear in the Galt Papers and have been added to Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, as of March 2023
NameDates & Records
Miame1786, 1787, 1788, 1790,1791, 1793,1794, Galt-Barraud Partnership Papers
Miame’s Child1788, 1789,1790,1795, Galt-Barraud Partnership Papers
Jamie1787, Galt Barraud Partnership Papers
1812, Alexander D. Galt Medical Records
Jim1785, Galt-Barraud Partnership Papers
Jimmy1783, Galt-Barraud Partnership Papers
Franky’s Child1787, 1796, 1799, Galt-Barraud Partnership Papers

Our team, which includes Lemon Project intern Lena Bullard, a first-year William & Mary student, is further searching the records to gain clues about enslavers and the people held in bondage. These significant records provide additional information on the physical condition of people enslaved by the university, and there are lists of individuals and families of other enslavers.

MsV 5 – Galt-Barraud Ledger A, 1782-1797, fols. 116, 204. Galt Papers (I), series 3, box 3. Swem SCRC.

[i] Galt Family of Williamsburg Source: The William & Mary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 4 (April 1900), pp. 259-262 (also see: W&M Knowledge Base, John Minson Galt, https://scrc-kb.libraries.wm.edu/john-minson-galt-1744-1808; see Dr. Barraud Historical Report https://research.colonialwilliamsburg.org/DigitalLibrary/view/index.cfm?doc=ResearchReports%5CRR1193.xml&highlight=

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The Local Black Histories Project Unveils New Research on a Free Black Community in York County 

by Dr. Jajuan Johnson, Lemon Project Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow

The Lemon Project congratulates the Village Initiative for Equity in Education, William & Mary faculty and students, and the area Black descendant communities on revealing the online exhibition “Life in the Reservation Community.” The website tells the story of an autonomous African American community in York County established before the Civil War and upended in the 1920s by eminent domain to build what is now the Naval Weapons Station. 

The unveiling on Saturday, February 4, drew a crowd of over 250 Reservation descendants at William & Mary’s School of Education. The project’s first phase provides a comprehensive rendering of the people who lived on the Reservation, the complexity of freedom pre-and post-Civil War, entrepreneurship tied to the York River, and a range of primary sources on local Black church history. The project’s next phase will cover the topics: Dispossession and Protest, Resilience: Rebuilding a Legacy, and Intergenerational Trauma and Activism Today. 

The Reservation history is not singular but contains numerous narratives of families in York County and connections beyond the Commonwealth of Virginia. During the Lemon Project’s 13th Annual Spring Symposium, there will be two panels on the Reservation history and its legacies: Where Do We Go From Here?: A generational discussion of The Reservation Experience; Life in the Reservation Community: Community-University Partnerships for Public Research. 

The symposium themed, At the Root: Exploring Black life, History, and Culture, has three objectives: 

  • Reflect on what is happening in African American communities and consider how these communities transform narratives. 
  • Explore the ways that colleges and universities work with African American communities. 
  • Contribute to strategies and best practices for institutions dealing with their involvement in slavery and its legacies. 

Join us at the 2023 Lemon Project Spring Symposium to learn more about the Reservation and other public humanities projects. Participants will also discuss current topics related to Black life and culture.  

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Meet William & Mary’s most recent Executive Director of Historic Campus

By Caroline Watson, Lemon Project Anthropology Graduate Assistant

Those who are well-connected with the Lemon Project likely know Dr. Susan Kern. To meet Susan is to learn of her extensive knowledge of the inner and outer workings of William & Mary’s Historic Campus. Her knowledge base of campus history is rarely surpassed! This is unsurprising given Susan’s connection to William & Mary as an alumnus (Ph.D., History) and the university’s most recent Executive Director of Historic Campus (2014-2021). Susan took over as Executive Director of Historic Campus in 2014, replacing previous director Louise Kale, who took the honorable position in 1995 (and in whose name the daffodil garden in the North Wren Yard is dedicated).

As a key figure who has shaped the narrative surrounding Historic Campus, especially the Wren Building, I sought to learn more about Susan’s role as Executive Director. On a warm afternoon last October, we gathered for a coffee and a brief interview. My initial curiosities surrounded Susan’s job requirements, as not many universities have an institutionalized Historic Campus, much less an Executive Director of it. I was indeed surprised to learn of the breadth and diversity of roles that were required of such a position.

Susan Kern and 18th-century drain uncovered near the Wren Building, 2019. Stephen Salpukas/William and Mary

During her time at William & Mary, Susan facilitated and upheld working relationships with many local and state-wide institutions, including the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Resources, the Muscarelle Museum, and facilities management. When she wasn’t occupied by the bureaucratic responsibilities that came with maintaining these relationships, Susan was tasked with managing Historic Campus’s resources. This management required not just a little bit of work and creativity from Susan; this was a colossal commitment on her part to care for the documents, artworks, and archaeological materials that belong to Historic Campus. A significant part of this care, we discussed, was focused on the archaeological resources. Susan herself was and is adequately prepared for such a task, given her experience working and directing Monticello’s archaeology department for 8 years. For those who may not know, W&M’s archaeological resources materialize in diverse forms. They range from technical reports, excavation descriptions and planning documents, publications, artifacts, and even the sites themselves. One of Susan’s most recent projects on Historic Campus oversaw the excavation of an 18th-century vaulted brick drain behind the Wren Building.

Historic Campus has been continuously occupied and used since the chartering of W&M in 1693—and long before that too. As such, Susan had her hands full writing, re-writing, and expanding the archaeological narrative of this landscape. In particular, Susan helped reframe thinking about campus as a site of slavery, including understanding the College (Wren) Building as William & Mary’s original slave quarter. Through her diligent work on Historic Campus and as a partner with the Lemon Project, Susan was committed to a more inclusive history at William & Mary.

Moreover, before leaving office, Susan composed a formal recommendation to Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary regarding the best practices for the management of the University’s archaeological resources. As part of her plan, I continue to use the documents and resources that she gathered as part of my Lemon Project fellowship investigating the history of archaeology and slavery at W&M. Thank you again, Susan, for all your work!

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How does archaeology (re)define place at William & Mary?

by Caroline Watson, Anthropology Graduate Assistant

Archaeology is intimately tied to the concept of place. Many think that archaeology is about discovering “new” places. Yet most often what archaeologists do is reveal places that already exist —places that have been ignored, reburied, or shifted around over time by natural or deliberate forces. A current of discovery does exist in the undertow of archaeological investigation, however, especially as we think of how social forces become entangled with the material world in ways that continuously create or reimagine meaningful places.

In thinking of how meaningful material places are constructed at William & Mary, it helps to keep an open mind. Let’s start with the brick walkways around campus—have they ever looked the same one day to the next? Really think about it! Every day, these bricks transport people to their campus destinations, and they are shifted around ever so slightly by the people who walk (or trip!) over them, steal them, or remove them to create space for new construction. Yet, despite these everyday delicate changes, many still perceive the bricks as a singular entity. Through this process, they have become a material index to William & Mary’s image, identity, and history. We can therefore imagine how these very human actions and experiences become embedded into William & Mary’s bricks. This is what makes them an inherently archaeological place imbued with cultural meaning.

But what happens when those bricks are associated with just one social history? The university, like many others, has intentionally maintained its brick aesthetic to uphold the image of William & Mary as a place for academic elites. Yet, this image is inherently constructed by whitewashing the university’s history and stripping away other social identities from the campus landscape. This becomes clear when we remember the free Black and enslaved workers who produced the bricks and buildings of Historic Campus themselves, but whose connection to the campus image has been historically and forcibly erased. In this way, bricks are a material entryway into understanding William & Mary’s construction of place.

Setting aside bricks for now (thank goodness, right?), my goal with the Lemon Project is to investigate other overlooked material places. By extension, this means I am also looking into the activities, behaviors, and people who are associated with campus places and who have long been overshadowed by colonial power. Materially speaking, the social lives and identities of enslaved peoples at William & Mary have been buried. For example, outbuildings, possibly associated with enslaved people, were destroyed during the construction of the Sunken Garden. Campus renovation projects have torn down buildings and drastically altered the campus landscape and its archaeological record. What’s more, all these physical changes are coated with layers of intentional forgetting. To reimagine William & Mary in more inclusive ways, then, we must first understand the processes through which non-white identities were disassociated from campus places and then work to re-associate this landscape with their experiences, activities, and presence.

There are several places we can start. As I have mentioned in previous Lemon Project presentations, one place where archaeology has helped materialize enslaved history is through the identification of a subfloor pit in the President’s House parking lot. This feature dates to around the mid-19th century based on the artifacts that came from it.[1] Archaeologists working in the mid-Atlantic region have long associated these dug-out features with enslaved living quarters.[2] I argue that such a finding on Historic Campus represents a possible place where the lives and labors of enslaved people emerge from the buried surface. In this perspective, the Wren Yard ceases to exist as a place of stagnant and permanent white history. Instead, it becomes an area of active archaeological inquiry.

William & Mary faculty, staff, and students are also constructing other material “ruptures” in new ways that create space for Black histories. Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved and the Sankofa Seed sculpture, for example, are two places where silenced memories at William & Mary erupt and exist on the campus landscape. Hearth (pronounced /härTH/) is a place that grounds multiple temporalities. It simultaneously rematerializes the presence of enslaved people at William & Mary while also fostering a new sense of belonging for students of color, past, present, and future. Recent excavations in the Wren South yard, close to where Hearth is now, also bring forth the memory of enslaved labor through material findings. Archaeologists identified a large saw pit in this area of Historic Campus, a feature that directly associates this space with labor activities, like brickmaking, food preparation, and butchering.[3] Enslaved people did this work. Thus, a strong link is forged between Hearth, which sits on the visible surface, and other material evidence of enslaved history that persists on campus below the ground. In this case, an archaeological perspective has helped to create a more meaningful and inclusive narrative about a place of Black history on campus. I hope that my work can continue to blend the past, present, and future in ways that help us reimagine places at William & Mary.


[1] Moore, W.H. (2006). Archaeological Survey and Evaluation of the Proposed Manhole Structure Project Area, President’s House Parking Lot, College of William and Mary, City of Williamsburg, Virginia. WMCAR Project No. 06-16. William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research, 40. Interested in seeing these reports? I’ve been digitizing them! Email lemon@wm.edu for a scan.

[2] Samford, Patricia (2007). Subfloor pits and the archaeology of slavery in Colonial Virginia. University of Alabama Press.

[3] Edwards, Andrew C. (2016). Archaeology of the South Wren Yard. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 79-107.

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The Lemon Project and Clemson University Exchange 

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 opening reception in the Department of History’s library.  

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.  

Dr. Sarah Thomas leads Historic Campus tour

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. 

Reverend Leslie Revilock presented the Lemon Project with the Building Connections and Bridging Differences Award.

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. 

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The First Annual Descendant’s Day at Highland

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.

IIC Students, Credit Grace Helmick

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.

Ada’s Kitchen on Wheels, Credit Grace Helmick

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!

Locally, the Council welcomed the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at the University of Virginia, the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, the Descendants of the Pen Park plantations, and the B.F. Yancey School Community Center. The event included many regional collaborators, including the White House Historical Association, Virginia Humanities, the Ivy Creek Foundation, plus colleagues from the Louisa County Historical Society and the Fluvanna County Historical Society. Perhaps most importantly, the Council met two previously unknown individuals who descend from Highland’s enslaved families.
An important source of information for Highland’s Florida descendants is Take Them In Families, an ongoing research project centered on the families sold by James Monroe to Florida in 1828.

It was a full afternoon of fellowship, food, conversation, and remembrance that closed with a Calling of Names.

The next Descendants Day is already scheduled for Saturday, June 10, 2023.

To learn more about the Descendant Council’s work as well as Highland’s ongoing reinterpretation, visit https://highland.org/.

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