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Va. College to Examine Its Racial History

April 1, 2010

The College of William and Mary is examining its role as a slave owner and its discrimination against black people for decades after the Civil War, and will look at current race relations.

The school has formed a panel to study how the history of the nation's second-oldest college was intertwined with the history of black people. Before the Civil War, for example, President Thomas Roderick Dew used his position as a platform for promoting and justifying the slave trade.

William and Mary adopted a resolution last spring acknowledging that it owned and exploited slave labor from its founding in 1693 until the Civil War, and that it discriminated against black people during the Jim Crow era.

The Lemon Project Committee will examine slavery and race relations from the end of the Civil War to present times. It takes its name from a slave named Lemon, owned by William and Mary in the 1800s.

The school has named two faculty members to lead the Lemon Project Committee in a multiyear examination of the role race played in the college's history.

Research has found the college owned five to 10 slaves from the early 1800s to the start of the Civil War, and it may also have hired slave laborers, said Kimberley Phillips, a history professor who is co-chairing the Lemon committee with colleague Robert Vinson.

Slaves also built some of the college's buildings, but that wasn't uncommon during the era, Phillips said.

"What building built before the Civil War in Virginia wasn't built by slaves? We're shocked by it in the 21st century, but we shouldn't be," she said.

The committee will involve scholars as well as people in the community who "have been keeping alive this history," she said.

Among projects will be the preservation of the papers of Richmond's Maggie L. Walker, the first black woman to charter a bank, and to make her papers accessible on a Web site.

Other plans include a lecture series, conferences, undergraduate courses and study-abroad programs, and oral history projects involving African-American residents of Williamsburg and the school's first black alumni.


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