Educating Lemon: The Bray School

Hello there! My name is Sarah Marcellin, and I am a junior (soon to be senior, what?!) at the College of William and Mary. I am a history major, and dual enrolled as an undergrad with William and Mary’s School of Education in the secondary education program. I was thrilled—and a little shocked, since I’m a bit of a research novice– to receive a scholarship through the Dewey Renick Memorial Fund and the Charles Center, which will set me on my way to doing research with the Lemon Project this summer. Though the sum total of my experience with primary sources adds up to one course, when I think of this project I feel just like a child on their birthday, waiting to unwrap the endless brightly colored presents history has to offer.

I hope to focus my research on one of the LPs more recent discoveries, the Bray School. The Bray School was open to free and enslaved blacks between 1760 and 1774. I hope to discover more information about the individuals who attended the Bray School—what their daily lives were like both inside and outside of the classroom, how their education may have impacted their immediate lives, and what the future held for these students of the oldest school in the history of black education. I will also seek to consider how these individuals, armed with the boon of education that many of their peers lacked, impacted their community and the other individuals living in its orbit.

History is a tangled web, and often represents the intersection of a moment in an individual’s life with the broader course of a community or a nation. I believe there is power invested in a thorough knowledge of history, both for the individual and their community. No one has ever questioned the age-old wisdom of knowing the mistakes in our history, so that we can best move forward from them and avoid repeating them. But more than that wisdom, I believe that knowing the history of a people and a place can empower those people and that place. Regardless of whether we attend William and Mary as students, or we happen to live in Williamsburg because that is where our parents live and our parents’ parents lived, simply knowing our history gives us all a ground to stand on. I don’t doubt that the stated goal of the Lemon Project to reconcile and ameliorate the College’s participation in slavery as an institution is a noble one. It’s noble and admirable and absolutely necessary. But it’s also a negative goal. It seeks to turn a negative experience into an understood neutrality. I believe that the Lemon Project should do more than that. It should positively empower students at the College and members of the Williamsburg community to take pride in the complexity of our history, which has been overshadowed for so long by the fantasy of Colonial Williamsburg.

At the very least, it’s a nice place to start a dinner conversation with our parents when we find that the sum total memory we retain from all those hours spent in Swem is really just one YouTube video.

Comments

  1. I agree with your view. At W&M, we do not talk nearly enough about the school’s history, and how it interacted with wider streams of American and world history. Since W&M is an integral part of many students identities, to not understand the college’s past is to negate a part of heritage. I look forward to reading your research, and to hear how it changes your view of history and responsibility.