A Building on the College of William and Mary Campus May Be the Oldest Surviving Black Schoolhouse in America

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is currently involved in the Lemon Project, which is examining the institution’s role in slavery. The project is named after a black slave who was owned by the college.

As part of the examination of its history, Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English at William and Mary, believes he has found evidence that a building on campus is the oldest surviving school for black children in the United States.

Professor Meyers’ research shows that the Diggers House on Prince George Street, which currently houses the college’s ROTC and military sciences programs, was home to the Williamsburg Bray School. The school opened in 1760 to educate both free blacks and slaves.

It was not until 1819 that Virginia passed legislation that made it illegal to teach a slave to read or write. The punishment for violating the law was 20 lashes.