W&M’s Lemon Project hosting 11th-annual symposium

Williamsburg

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — William & Mary’s Lemon Project is hosting its 11th-annual symposium.

This year’s theme is Four Centuries of Black Women in America: Freedom, Activism, and Justice for All.

The Lemon Project was established after students and faculty called for the school in 2009 to look into the school’s past ownership of slaves and inaction in taking a stand against segregation during the Civil Rights period.

The project is named after Lemon, a slave who was owned by the school. Those involved with the project are not only currently researching others who were owned by or worked at William & Mary, but are also building bridges within the community to rectify the wrongs. This symposium is one of their events aimed at bringing the community together.

“We promised we would do research and engage with the community,” said Jody Lynn Allen, who is the Robert Francis Engs director of the Lemon Project. “We wanted a way to share what we were finding. We started in 2011 to do that. The initial symposium was a way for us to hear from the community. There were community members from panel who talked about their experiences growing up in Williamsburg and their experiences with William & Mary in particular.”

Since, the event has grown. Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, but Allen says more than 400 people have registered to attend this year’s event.

“The glass is half full with COVID in this way, because people can sign up all over the country who wouldn’t be able to come to Williamsburg,” she said.

The symposium kicked off on Monday, March 22 at noon with a series of virtual speakers.

Dr. Christy Coleman, who is the executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, will be the symposium’s first keynote speaker at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.

Her discussion will be on “Black Women and the Conscience of a Nation.”

Sarah Thomas, who is the Lemon Project’s program manager, says other keynote speakers will also discuss a number of topics ranging from issues that we’ve seen play out of the last year.

“I think we can’t have our symposium without addressing what we’ve gone through in the past year. Black women have been leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement and protest. What we do at the Lemon Project is about healing and reconciliation,” she said.

Thomas says the symposium isn’t just an academic conference.

“We have scholars, community members, graduate and undergrad students. We have people talking about their family history. We have a lot of people coming together and it’s just a moving experience,” she said.

Thomas says the symposium also offers practical information for people to use on their own journeys.

Allen agreed.

“I think there will be information for people to learn from and maybe use to apply to their own particular situation or organization. There’s opportunities to be given to consider to make their own,” she said. “There will be a lot of historical information. It’s important to know about our past. I know some people want to resist that but we can’t seriously move forward if we don’t know what we’re moving away from and moving to.”

Allen says the Lemon Project is also getting ready for William & Mary’s slave memorial groundbreaking this spring as well as working with a local middle school for a pilot program.

The Lemon Project is also hosting an event with Minnijean Brown of the Little Rock 9 on April 8 and another event with genealogists from the National Museum of African American History and Culture on April 20.

To attend the week long event, you must register here.

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