Lemon Project studies College’s history of slavery

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March 22, 2011

1:16 AM

The Lemon Project, an interdisciplinary research effort examining the relationship between African Americans and the College of William and Mary, held its first annual Spring Symposium Saturday at Bruton Heights School in Williamsburg.The day-long event, entitled “From Slavery toward Reconciliation: African Americans and the College,” brought together students, faculty and Williamsburg community members to highlight the project’s ongoing research.

“Part of the Lemon Project is to disseminate information that’s gathered,” Project Coordinator, history professor Jody Allen said. “The other thing is to provide a place where people can come together to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas.”

The Lemon Project, named after a slave owned by the College at the turn of the 19th century, was originally created by a Board of Visitors’ resolution in 2009 as an effort by the College to acknowledge and better understand its role in the subjugation of African Americans over its long history.

“I don’t think that until we’re willing to tell the whole story that we can move forward,” Allen said. “Once it gets out there, you can really start to deal with it.”

The symposium began with an address by College President Taylor Reveley, who spoke about the project’s history and plans for the future.

“Words can be extremely important. But words aren’t enough,” Reveley said of the 2009 BOV resolution. “William and Mary wanted to take actual, concrete steps towards reconciliation.”

Part of this process was compiling work that had already been done but had not been properly showcased, Lemon Initiatives Co-Chair, History Professor Kim Phillips said.

“It was sporadic as opposed to [a] systematic effort,” she said.

The symposium continued with a morning plenary showcasing effort by the College and Williamsburg community members to investigate the historical involvement of African Americans at the College.

“These are stories that seem like local stories but are actually at the heart of a national struggle,” Phillips said.

The day’s events continued with a series of student presentations, covering topics ranging from the portrayal of slavery in historic sites to the shortage of African-Americans in the scientific community.

The symposium then concluded with a showing of Arianne Daniels’ documentary, “Their Eyes Were Watching Jim Crow” and remarks by Democratic Committee of Williamsburg co-chair Dr. John Whitley.

The Project’s organizers shared their thoughts on the symposium and hopes for the future.

“I think [the Project] has sparked a collective conversation in ways that I had not anticipated,” Phillips said. “My hope is that this brings together people from the College … to think about new, collaborative research efforts.”

This Spring Symposium is the first of what project coordinators hope to be a long series of similar events, designed to encourage further discussion among the College community.

“Moving forward, my hope is that people will feel more comfortable [participating in discussion],” Allen said. “Hopefully, people will come to know [the symposium] as an opportunity to talk.”

Allen said that she hopes to expand the symposium to include more of the College community, and she discussed the possibility of making the day-long event into one which spans an entire weekend.

Other plans for the project include the creation of an informative brochure and the possible compilation of a scholarly journal highlighting research done at the College, although the specifics remain unclear.

“This is an open-ended project,” Phillips said.

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