Last weekend, the Lemon Project, an organization tasked with exploring the College of William and Mary’s relationship with African Americans, explored issues their community continues to struggle with. Its fifth annual Spring Symposium, was themed “Ghosts of Slavery: The Afterlives of Racial Bondage.” The symposium was open to the public and featured panel discussions, speakers, a solo theatrical performance and a spoken-word event.
Since the inception of the symposium, it has grown from a one-day event to two days featuring a variety of scholars and artists from across the nation. This year’s symposium was held at Williamsburg’s Bruton Heights School, the School of Education and the Sadler Center.
Professor Jody Allen Ph.D. ‘07, the co-chair and managing director of the Lemon Project, discussed how the symposium has grown over the past five years.
“This year, we probably had our broadest range of professors. We had a woman who came all the way from Germany … We had a law professor from North Carolina and a person from U. Va, George Washington [University] and New York [University],” said Allen. “It’s grown in terms of the geographic range of the presenters and [the number of] people who came to participate. It’s grown physically in terms of numbers and outgrowing [the Bruton Heights School], but also we broadened our coverage of topics.”
Panels at the event included “Transforming Death and Trauma,” which dealt with the history of slavery and death for African Americans. Hannah Rosen, assistant professor of history and American studies at the College, moderated this panel.
“The presentations were literally about the afterlives of the enslaved, in that they each explored the impact of the death of enslaved people on the living,” Rosen said. “Discussion eventually focused on the struggle to commemorate the deaths of African American people in the context of the racial and racist systems that followed the end of slavery. Marking and remembering the deaths of enslaved people is to also remember their lives, and the impact of those lives being lost on those who remained. A member of the audience eloquently pointed out that not only do ‘black lives matter,’ as has become an important rallying cry in the political protests against police violence over the last year, but also that ‘black death matters,’ that is, we must remember and mark the deaths of African Americans and also attend to the impact of those deaths on the living.”
The final event of the symposium was a spoken word event organized by first year American studies Ph.D. candidate James Padilioni and held in Lodge 1 Saturday evening. The spoken word event was added to the symposium last year, it features artists from the student body and the local community. Padilioni said that he saw the event as a great way to end the symposium and engage students more than the other events might.
“Last year we decided to do something to involve the student community a little more than the actual conference [does],” Padilioni said. “Kids don’t necessarily want to hear lectures on a Friday night or a Saturday, but they [are] more willing to come to a performative event.”
Overall, Allen said that the symposium was a huge success, especially in engaging the community and discussing issues that the African American community continues to face.
“I think it’s been successful in showing the community in particular that William and Mary is serious about reaching out, is serious about having these tough discussions about the College’s history but also where we move from this point,” Allen said.
Besides its annual Spring Symposium, the Lemon Project also hosts the “Donning of the Kente” ceremony in May for graduating students. It is a “rite of passage” ceremony open to people of all races in which students receive stoles from a person of their choosing and engage in multiple informal porch talks. These allow faculty and students to have informal discussions about issues in the community.