WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Designs for a memorial project to honor African Americans enslaved at William & Mary are complete.
The university made the announcement earlier this week and said they’ve reached their fundraising goal.
It’s a yearslong process in the making, according to assistant professor of history and the Robert France Engs Director of the Lemon Project Jody Allen.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “The memorial was first called for by students in 2007. We have been actively working to accomplish it.”
And that’s through the Lemon Project, which the university created over a decade ago to rectify the school’s relationship with slavery and racism dating back to its inception in 1693.
In previous interviews with 10 On Your Side, Allen told us that records show the university owned at least 60 slaves until the Civil War.
The project is named after a slave they know the most about.
“Lemon was not the only slave. Before the American Revolution, there was quite a few slaves. We don’t know the exact number,” she said in 2018.
The designs for the memorial were created by Baskervill, an architectural firm, based on the designs alumni William Sendor submitted to an international design competition.
It’s called “Hearth” and according to the school, will resemble a fireplace with the names of those who were enslaved by the school.
“They will be recognized and this will be something that will no longer be able to be hidden away. They’re coming out of the archives. They’re being humanized,” she said.
Allen says she feels a lot of different emotions when thinking about the memorial, including what those honored might feel were they here today.
“I think about the wonder that would be in their eyes and their mind to know they’re being recognized and appreciated and that there are people who look like them that are students, workers, and administrators now at William & Mary,” she said.
Construction, done by Kjellstrom & Lee, is expected to begin early next year and hopefully be completed by October, according to Allen.
The school reached its fundraising goal of $2 million, with $1 million through private donations and another million from the Board of Visitors matching funds.
Allen says the memorial will be located in the Historic Campus near the Admissions building, a spot that sees high traffic.
While the memorial is there to honor those in the past, she hopes those who currently attend can feel a connection to it too, especially in today’s climate.
“People always ask ‘Why are you still talking about slavery? Why’s it still important?’ It’s still important, one, because this memorial — and so is the Lemon Project — [is] a visual way of acknowledging these people who built William & Mary,” she said. “I think it’s important to students of color and faculty of color that we are being recognized and William & Mary is acknowledging their role. One of the reasons we’re having some of the problems we’re having is systemic racism. Part of that system is that we’ve been left out of it. This is just one step to acknowledging the importance of these individuals and how they too played an important role. The first step is acknowledging and embracing.”
“Once people feel they are a part of it, they feel they have a say now too. I can speak up now and be heard,” she said.
Allen says they are still taking donations.
If you would like to donate or learn more, click here.
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