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Category: Community Engagement

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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Mellon Foundation Fellow Represents Lemon Project in German Professional Exchange

Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Jajuan Johnson is part of a cohort of fifteen experts dedicated to promoting an inclusive and progressive culture of remembrance in public spaces in Germany and the United States. Building a Diverse Culture of Remembrance (DAICOR) is an exchange program whereby participants explore how diversity, equity, and inclusion are implemented in memorial cultures.

Jajuan Johnson and Awet Tesfaiesus

During the Germany learning tour, Dr. Johnson introduced the Lemon Project as a model for reckoning with slavery and its legacies at higher education institutions to the cohort of artists, educators, activists, and nonprofit leaders. He also discussed service-learning as an intervention for understaffed cultural institutions doing reparative archival work and community-engaged research with citizens focused on decolonizing the public history landscape in Berlin and Hamburg.  

Jajuan Johnson and Hannimari Jokinen

The one-week visit involved conversations with political leaders such as Awet Tesfaiesus, the first Black woman elected to the German Parliament serving as Chairwoman of the Committee for Culture and Media. In addition to touring sites such as the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum and the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg (MARKK), the fellows met with local civic actors with organizations such as Decolonial Memory Culture in the City, is a model project that aims to explore and make visible the past and present of the (anti-)colonial in Berlin, the rest of Germany and in Germany’s former colonies with the help of experts and activists worldwide.

The trip concluded with a lecture and discussion with artist and curator Hannimari Jokinen on the function of post-colonial memorials and strategies for reckoning with troubled pasts through community-engaged interpretation, as is reflected in the goals of Hearth Memorial to the Enslaved. As we collectively envisioned the uses of memorial sites, we agreed they are to be changeable, fluid, and provoking conversations that strengthen democratic societies. 

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At the Root: Exploring Black Life, History, and Culture Symposium Call for Proposals

The Lemon Project team invites you to submit proposals for the 13th Annual Lemon Project Spring Symposium, an in-person and virtual event, that will be held on March 24-25, 2023. View the Call for Proposals below.

About The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation

Founded in 2009 by the William & Mary Board of Visitors, the Lemon Project is the second institutionally funded project of its kind in the United States. The Lemon Project is a multifaceted and dynamic attempt to rectify wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by William & Mary through action or inaction. An ongoing endeavor, The Lemon Project explores and encourages scholarship on the 330-year relationship between African Americans and William & Mary. The Lemon Project builds bridges between William & Mary and African American communities through research, programming, and supporting students, faculty, and staff.

Call for Proposals

Individual papers or panels of 3 or 4 are welcome

The first Lemon Project Spring Symposium, held in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2011, “brought together students, faculty, and community members to discuss ongoing research into our past, as well as the ways that history continues to define relationships between African Americans and the university in the present.” In that vein, we return to our roots, centering local Black histories and their vast influences.  

The 2023 Spring Symposium will explore the following questions: In what ways are African American communities taking charge and telling their stories? How are colleges and universities working with local African American communities to foster belonging? What methods are communities and scholars using to tell fuller narratives of African American life, history, and culture? In what ways are researchers contributing to the emancipatory aims of Black Studies through research collaboration with Black communities?

Our symposium is multi-disciplinary and open to all. We seek proposals from people who focus on Black life, history, and culture, including but not limited to academic and descendant researchers, educators, activists, and members of Greater Williamsburg communities and beyond. We invite a broad range of topics from the fields of American Studies, Black Studies, Anthropology, History, Public Humanities, Preservation, and STEM. We also invite community organizers and activists to submit proposals in areas such as cultural production (art, poetry, music), wellness, and spirituality. We welcome submissions from people of all genders, including trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals.

Please submit your proposals by November 18, 2022.

The symposium has three main objectives, focusing on the past, present, and future:
  • Reflect on what is happening in African American communities and consider the ways these communities are transforming 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
 Possible topics include but are not limited to:
  • African American memory and heritage studies
  • Community engagement and best practices
  • Descendant communities and their histories
  • Environmental history, land conservation, and displacement
  • Family histories, local histories, and genealogical studies
  • Reparations and reparative efforts
  • Shared Authority and transforming narratives
  • Universities and colleges studying slavery and its afterlives
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A Crime on the Bayou: Virtual Film Screening and Conversation on September 29

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 conversation about 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.

The following is excerpted from A Crime on the Bayou‘s website.

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.

A file photo of a young Gary Duncan, Courtesy of Twin Seas Media
Richard Sobol Arrest Photo, Courtesy of Twin Seas Media
Richard Sobol and Gary Duncan, Courtesy of Twin Seas Media
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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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Lemon Project Partner Receive State Historic Site Designation

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.

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Join us for “Recognizing and Sharing Family Treasures” with Bessida Cauthorne White in July

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.

We invite you to complete our genealogy research inquiry form and let us know if you have (or think you have) enslaved ancestral ties to William & Mary.

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).

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Summer Sankofa Series continues with Nicka Sewell-Smith in June

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.

Register now for this virtual workshop on June 9 at 6 pm ET.

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.”

We invite you to complete our genealogy research inquiry form and let us know if you have (or think you have) enslaved ancestral ties to William & Mary.

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.

Image courtesy of Nicka Sewell Smith

“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.”

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The Dedication of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved

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.

Dr. Jody Allen at the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland, ’83)
Dr. Chon Glover at the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland, ’83)
The Legacy Three at the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland, ’83)
Images of the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland)
Images of the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland)
Dr. Hermine Pinson and Thomas Alexander at the dedication of Hearth, William & Mary’s Memorial to the Enslaved, taken Saturday afternoon May 7, 2022 (Skip Rowland, ’83)
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Uncovering Connections between Oak Grove Baptist Church and the Williamsburg Institutions during the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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.

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