A new grant aims to help the College of William & Mary look more at the legacy of slavery and racism at the country’s second-oldest college.

The university announced late Wednesday that it had been awarded a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, money the school said would help with research into slavery at William & Mary and Highland, the home of former President James Monroe that the university owns and operates in Albemarle County. Monroe was a W&M alumnus.

“By sharing authority to re-interpret the past with descendants of those who lived and were enslaved at Highland, we are taking a new approach to how we tell that history,” William & Mary President Katherine Rowe said in a statement. “We believe we will be able to tell a fuller story this way, and one with more consequence, today.”

The five-year grant will also help the school create an oral history of descendants of slaves at Highland and William & Mary.

“The William & Mary campus was built and maintained by dozens, if not hundreds, of enslaved people, including children,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “By partnering with their descendants to conduct new research and share it widely with the public, William & Mary demonstrates how building meaningful partnerships can move communities towards reconciliation and lift up histories that have not yet been fully understood.”

The project is officially called “Sharing Authority to Remember and Re-interpret the Past.”

William & Mary has spent the past 10 years trying to address its racist past through the Lemon Project, a separate initiative the university said would operate alongside the new one.

The university in Williamsburg relied on slave labor for more than 150 years after its 1693 founding. It also bought and sold slaves, The Washington Post reported last year. In April 2018, the board of visitors formally apologized for the school’s history of slavery and racial discrimination.

The new project will try to help identify those slaves and their descendants.

“It’s a way of recognizing the people who were enslaved by the college and another way of acknowledging their humanity,” said Lemon Project Director Jody Allen, who is also a history professor at William & Mary. “Even if we don’t find the descendants, William & Mary owes a debt, and this is one way we can help repay it.”

Allen added that the university already knows the identity of about 60 people enslaved by the school. Parts of the project’s research, Allen said, will be incorporated into a memorial being developed by the school to honor African Americans enslaved by William & Mary.

The university chose a concept for the memorial in April. Where, exactly, the memorial will go on campus has not been decided.

In July, the University of Virginia started its own project to identify and contact the descendants of university-owned slaves. The Daily Progress reported that an estimated 4,000 enslaved people lived and worked at the university from 1817 through 1865.

The William & Mary grant runs through June 30, 2024.

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Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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