College apologizes for its role in slavery, segregation

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The College of William and Mary's Board of Visitors issued a formal apology April 20 for its role in slavery and segregation. GRAPHIC BY LEONOR GRAVE / THE FLAT HAT

For close to two centuries, the College of William and Mary used slave labor. The College admitted its first African-American residential students in 1967.

Today, the Board of Visitors voted unanimously to approve a resolution apologizing for the university’s role in slavery and segregation at their full board meeting.

“The Board of Visitors acknowledges that William and Mary enslaved people, exploited them and their labor and perpetuated the legacies of racial discrimination,” College President Taylor Reveley said, reading from the resolution. “The Board profoundly regrets these activities, apologizes for them, expresses its deep appreciation for the contributions made by the African-American members of its community to the vitality of William and Mary then, now, and for all time coming, and commits to continue our efforts to remedy the lingering effects of past injustices.”

Almost a decade ago in 2009, the BOV formally acknowledged that the College had a role in exploiting slave labor and failing to resist segregation during the Jim Crow era. At this time, the BOV also supported the establishment of The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation.

The Lemon Project — named in honor of a man once enslaved by the College — has led the effort to both conduct research into the history of African Americans and to carve a path of reconciliation. Today’s resolution also arrives at the end of a symbolically resonant year marked by the commemoration of 50 years of African-American students in residence at the College.

The resolution acknowledged the work of history professor Robert Engs, whose scholarship was instrumental in the foundation of The Lemon Project and of history professor Jody Allen, its director. Engs conducted research about the history of African Americans at the College and how to further the study of that history. Allen’s research focuses on the College’s role in slavery and Jim Crow.

Another step the College has taken toward reconciliation was the creation of the Race and Race Relations Task Force and the Implementation Team in 2015. Task Force Chair Fanchon Glover M.Ed. ’99, Ed.D. ’06 presented the Implementation Team’s final report at the BOV meeting, in which she noted the recent hiring of Deputy Diversity Officer Dania Matos at the Center for Student Diversity, the hiring of nine faculty members of color over the last two years and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ vote to move forward with the COLL 199 curriculum requirement. The Implementation Team will no longer formally exist.

The Board also voted today to approve the creation of a two-year post doctorate fellow position for The Lemon Project in partnership with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

BOV member Warren Buck M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’76, D.Sc. ’13 praised the apology resolution as an important step in moving toward an equitable future.

“It’s time that this university does step up and the greatness of William and Mary will shine for all time coming with the passing of this resolution,” buck said. “This is a journey. It’s not over. But I think it sends a signal to everyone in this country and around the world that we are serious about inclusion and equity.”

“It warms my heart that William and Mary, being essentially ground zero for a time that African people were enslaved in this country almost 400 years ago, to have this resolution approved by the Board,” Buck said. “This university has been a leader in creating this country. … It’s time that this university does step up and the greatness of William and Mary will shine for all time coming with the passing of this resolution. This is a journey. It’s not over. But I think it sends a signal to everyone in this country and around the world that we are serious about inclusion and equity.”

Read the full text of the resolution below:

A JOURNEY OF RECONCILIATION: APOLOGY FOR WILLIAM AND MARY’S PART IN SLAVERY AND SEGREGATION

Whereas, in April 2009, the Board of Visitors adopted Resolution 21, acknowledging William & Mary’s role in slavery and Jim Crow and establishing “The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation”; and

Whereas, over the past nine years, William & Mary’s Lemon Project has greatly deepened our understanding of William & Mary’s history during the eras of slavery and segregation through research, courses and symposia; and

Whereas, The Lemon Project has expanded our engagement and reconciliation with the Williamsburg community through porch talks, public talks, articles and social media; and

Whereas, The Lemon Project has established itself as a leader among universities examining their past treatment of African Americans; and

Whereas, through the Lemon Project we will launch a process to design, fund and construct a memorial on campus to those enslaved by William & Mary; and

Whereas, over the past academic year, William & Mary has commemorated and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first three African American students in residence on campus with performances, lectures, symposia, panels and other commemorative events; and

Whereas, the Race and Race Relations Task Force, established by President Reveley in 2015 and chaired by Dr. W Fanchon Glover, identified ways to improve the campus racial climate; and

Whereas, President Reveley created an Implementation Team to comprehensively review the steps urged by the Race and Race Relations Task Force, and the Implementation Team presented its final report in April 2018, describing progress made to date; and

Whereas, the Board of Visitors applauds the progress and thanks both the Race and Race Relations Task Force and the Implementation Team; and

Whereas, the Board of Visitors recognizes a continuing need to examine and learn from William & Mary’s role in slavery, secession and segregation, both through the ongoing work of The Lemon Project and other research, dialogue and reflection;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Board of Visitors salutes the foundational scholarship of the late Robert F. Engs and the work of The Lemon Project and its director, Jody Lynn Allen;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Board of Visitors acknowledges that William & Mary enslaved people, exploited them and their labor, and perpetuated the legacies of racial discrimination. The Board profoundly regrets these activities, apologizes for them, expresses its deep appreciation for the contributions made by the African American members of its community to the vitality of William & Mary then, now, and for all time coming, and commits to continue our efforts to remedy the lingering effects of past injustices; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That this resolution be spread upon the minutes of the Board and a copy of the same be delivered to Professor Jody Allen with gratitude and best wishes for her continued leadership of The Lemon Project.