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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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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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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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Donning of the Kente 2022

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.

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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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The Colonial Gaze on William & Mary’s Archaeological Collections

By Caroline Watson, Lemon Project Anthropology Graduate Assistant

A common expression in archaeological communities is that theoretical interpretation happens “at the trowel’s edge”[1]. 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[2]. 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[3]. 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.

Image: Screenshot from Higgins III & Underwood 2001: 72, showing incised marble and cowrie shell.


[1] 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!

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

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Looking Back While Moving Forward: The Bricks of Hearth

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.

Hearth rendering, courtesy of Baskervill

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.

The vaulted, brick drain (Photo by Stephen Salpukas/William & Mary)

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.

Interview with Dr. Susan Kern on the Wren Drain

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.

Tearing Down Walls

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.

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