William and Mary places marker on N. Boundary Street to honor school for black children

aheymann@vagazette.com

Just as the Lemon Project’s research shed light on the history of the Bray School, the rain clouds cleared Friday morning for the school’s new marker dedication ceremony.

“This plaque invites all who pause at this site to join in the reflective work the Lemon Project has begun and sustained,” said the College of William and Mary’s president Katherine Rowe.

The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, was started in 2009 by the college’s Board of Visitors to acknowledge and reconcile William and Mary’s contributions to slavery and discrimination against African Americans.

Terry Meyers, a former co-chair of the lemon project and retired professor of English at the college, said what lead him to research the Bray School, and eventually help with the Lemon Project, was noticing Williamsburg’s local 19th-century history had been erased.

“One hundred years of history (had) seemingly (been) skipped over in Williamsburg,” Meyers said. “So I (have) long tended to keep an eye out for history others might have ignored.”

The Bray School taught both free and enslaved black children religious studies, reading and possibly writing, according to Meyers. He said William and Mary sent two of its enslaved children to the school.

“Today we say to those children you were here, you were important and we remember you,” said Jody Allen, director of the Lemon Project.

As part of the commemoration, Jada Head and Sophia Wilson of EMA Music and Arts sang “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” also known as the black national anthem.

“We love singing our songs, but I just feel it was really special to sing (‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’) and dedicate it to our older generations and past ancestors,” Head said.

“I know those kids (at the Bray School) probably had to go through a lot because their ancestors and their parents were probably recently coming out of slavery,” Wilson said. “So to see their parents going through that and them actually having the chance to get an education, something their parents didn’t get to do, I think was very great for them.”

While Rowe said this was a step in the right direction, the Lemon Project’s work was not over.

“Commemorations of this kind must be middle points, not endpoints,” Rowe said. “As we stand here today, William and Mary re-commits ourselves to the process of work in progress — to bringing to light and disseminating stories once untold.”

Want to see it?

The Bray School’s marker is at 107 N. Boundry St. The plaque gives a brief history of the school and its impact on the community. To learn more about the Lemon Project and its work, visit wm.edu/sites/lemonproject.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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