Lemon Project researchers have been searching for this type of information for years, mining tax records, wills, deeds and other centuries-old documents for details of the 199 people who were enslaved at William & Mary. These individuals – enslaved by administrators, faculty, students and the college itself – will be commemorated in a monument to be unveiled on campus this weekend.
“Throughout the research process, there are these glimmers of hope that motivate you and push you,” Johnson said of the information uncovered about London.
Researchers don’t know how old London was when he arrived at William & Mary or if he had any children himself, but Johnson said he may have been enslaved by Carter Braxton until he was sold in 1784.
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William & Mary, after its founding in 1693, relied heavily on slave labor, said Sarah E. Thomas, associate director of the Lemon Project. The project was named after a man the school had once enslaved. Some of the people enslaved at the school worked on campus. Others lived and worked in Nottoway Quarter, the school’s tobacco plantation.
“William & Mary has owned slaves for more years than it ever has,” Thomas said. “I think we view The Lemon Project and our work as a remedial effort, and one step in many efforts that William & Mary must do moving forward.”
According to William & Mary, slaves built the Wren Building, the oldest academic building on any US campus. According to Jody Lynn Allen, director of the Lemon Project and assistant professor of history, they were given many responsibilities, including providing fresh water to student rooms, emptying room pots, cleaning stables, cooking meals. and do the shopping.
In its charter, William & Mary was to receive a penny for every pound of tobacco collected in Maryland and Virginia, Thomas said. “William & Mary profited from slave labor throughout the Civil War,” she added. “You can’t have William & Mary without slaves.”
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Dozens of schools have dedicated resources in recent years to investigating their connections to slavery. Universities studying slaverya consortium of schools led by the University of Virginia, has nearly 100 members.
This body of research that involves dozens of the nation’s oldest and wealthiest universities as participants in the institution of slavery is growing. Officials, along with faculty and students, are trying to find a way forward.
On campuses, including William & Mary and George Mason University, memorials have been erected. Harvard University – after disclosing last month that former leaders, professors and staff had enslaved 79 people – has pledged $100 million to right injustices.
At Georgetown University, officials have pledged to support the descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in the 19th century to help the school pay off its debts.
It’s a movement that likely started at Brown University, Allen said, when its former president commissioned a group to explore the school’s history.
“As the word started to get out, people started wondering,” Allen said. In 2006 Brown published a report which detailed his relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Soon after, students and faculty at William & Mary called for an investigation into the school’s past.
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“It’s long overdue for William and Mary to recognize the people who literally built the old campus and maintained it, and were never compensated for it,” Allen said. With the memorial, “they can never again be hidden in the archives”.
The memorial will feature 94 names of people enslaved at the university. “We still don’t know much about the individuals,” Allen said. She calls the remaining 105 people “citing on file” because they are only referred to by details such as occupation or gender.
Although the memorial will be dedicated this weekend, it is far from complete, Thomas said. Researchers hope to add more names to the structure as they continue to learn more about the people it aims to commemorate.
“If we withhold the truth and choose not to acknowledge it, I just don’t think we’re living up to our mission,” Johnson said. “It will be a constant reminder for us to push harder for the democracy we hope to have.”