African Americans at William & Mary
This page includes material previously assembled in subject files and FAQs about African Americans at the College of William and Mary. This information includes "firsts" as well as ongoing data and material.
Administration and Administrators
"In 1974, the office for Minority Student Affairs was established to serve African-American students at the College and, eventually, the office evolved into the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) as the population it served began to expand."
1977: 2 African American faculty members
1978: The first African American member of the Board of Visitors was Henry T. Tucker, Jr. ’72, appointed in 1978.
1982: 2 African American faculty members
1983: 7 African American faculty members
Lillian A. Poe: A native of Newport News, VA, Ms Poe was a graduate of Hampton Institute and received her masters from the University of Virginia. She entered William and Mary doctoral program in 1969. Ms Poe was the first William and Mary student to receive an Advanced Study Fellowship for Black Americans from the Ford Foundation in 1971. She spent one summer at the University of Singapore under a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship. In 1970 Ms Poe became the College's first black administrator serving as Assistant to the Dean of Admissions while completing her doctorate course work. Her dissertation in history was on the life and career of the controversial black minister Elder Michaux, founder of the Church of God movement in the early 1900’s in Newport News.
- Trudier Harris
Ms Harris graduated from Washington College and receive degrees from Ohio State University. She was an Assistant Professor of English at William and Mary. In November, 1974, at the Virginia Folklore Society meeting at the University of Virginia Ms Harris presented a paper on Henry “Doc” Billups, who was the bellringer at William and Mary for 65 years. She researched Billups and his life in Williamsburg on a faculty research grant during the summer of 1974. In 1975 Ms Harris was awarded a summer research grant for “Black Folklore in Williamsburg: Uniqueness of Content”.
Her article, “Violence in The Third Life of Grange Copelan” appeared in the December 1975 issue of the College Language Association Journal.
- Helen Cam Walker
Ms Walker graduated from William and Mary in the class of 1964. She began her teaching career as a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Intern at Knoxville College, Knoxville, TN. She returned to William and Mary as an Assistant Professor of History in 1969 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977.
Walker wrote “The Petticoat Invasion” about the first women to attend William and Mary in 1918 for the September 1974 Alumni Gazette. In April, 1975, she became the head of Affirmative Action Committee working on equality for women athletes and a grievance committee for classified employees.
In June, 1975 Ms Walker was designated a Danforth Associate on campus by the Danforth Foundation. This program works to improve student-faculty relations and strengthen the teaching-learning process in colleges. At Charter Day, 1987, Ms Walker received the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award honoring her for the help she has given to students both inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to teaching history, she has contributed enormously to the advancement of the College’s programs in Honors and Interdisciplinary Studies.
In October, 1996, Ms Walker, the first "Minnie Braithwaite" lecturer, spoke on "Lyon and the Ladies: The Early History of Women at William and Mary".
Nancy B McGhee
Ms McGhee graduated from Shaw University. She received her masters from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She was the Chairwoman of the English Department at Hampton Institute from 1967 to 1973 and Director of the Institute in the Humanities at Hampton from 1964 to 1969.
Ms McGhee taught at the College in 1970-71 and rejoined the faculty as a visiting professor of English in 1979-80. Her teaching specialties include American Literature and Black Literature. She has received a Rosenwald Fellowship, a G.E.B. Fellowship and an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Shaw University. Her publications include “Langston Hughes: Black Genius”, “Stony the Road” and “The Slave Narrative in Retrospect” in the Ethnic Studies Journal, 1976.
In 1997 , the Black Studies Program was established. The program was changed to the Africana Studies Program in 2009.
According to Robert Fehrenbach, emeritus professor English, he and Ed Crapol, emeritus professor of History, co-taught "The Black Experience" for two years in 1970-1972. --email from Joanne Braxton, 16 December 2012. (Check Schedule of Classes for course specifics.)
According to Carl R. Dolmetsch, emeritus professor of English, Nancy McGhee taught the first course in Black Literature at the College of William & Mary in 1969-1970, the last year of Fraser Neiman's chairship, and Carl had her repeat the course during his first year as Chair, 1970-1971. The arrangement came about through Fraser's wife, Stella, whose classmate at Brown was Charles Nichols.
"Fraser had thought when he became Chair (and others in the department agreed) that it was time to have black literature taught here, When Nichols came to the Neiman house for a party he brought his former Hampton colleague Nancy McGhee and she and Fraser talked. Nichols recommended McGhee for the course, and it happened, continued by Carl the next year (Carl had come to know Nichols in Berlin where was Director of the John F. Kennedy Institute for American Studies at the Free University of Berlin where Carl had been invited by Nichols as a Fulbright Visiting Professor). Nichols had returned to Brown, and was in Virginia on a speaking tour).
"Carl mentioned that as Chair he thought there should be a permanent position in English for black lit, and he was instrumental in recruiting Trudier Harris, whom he recognized as stellar from the getgo and knew we would not be able to retain her--he thought every time she came into his office she would have a job offer and of course finally she did, from UNC, with whom, Carl told her, W&M could not compete." --email from Terry Meyers, 24 July 2012.
The 1969-1970 course catalog includes the class "The Negro in the United States Since 1861" course 466 taught by Department of History Professor Helen C. Walker. Description: "An examination of the role of the black man in American society from the Civil War to the present. The course will consider political, economic, and social developments within the black community, as well as problems in black-white relations."
According to an intern in the Virginia Division of Legislative Services in the Civil War Commission in July 2009, the College of William and Mary was one of the earliest, if not the first, college or university in Virginia to offer African American history courses before the late 1970s.
Slaves Owned By the College
The College of William and Mary had long-standing connections to slavery in the United States including owning slaves, owning a plantation, as well as through various members of the faculty.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Guide to to African-American Studies Resources in the Special Collections Research Center
- Guide for doing research related to the College of William & Mary
- SCRC Collections Database: search by names, organization, subject, event, etc.
- Search the W&M Digital Archive for additional material.
- The Flat Hat student newspaper; search the index available in the Special Collections Research Center's lobby by person's name, student group name, event, or topical heading. There is a partial index for the years 1911-1975 by Sebastian Kreindel also available online.
- Colonial Echo yearbook
- Student Organizations Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Office of Student Diversity Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Stony the Road We Trod Project, Oral history interviews by Jenay Jackson, 2005.
- Office of the President, Alvin Duke Chandler Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Office of the President, Davis Y. Paschall Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Office of the President, Thomas A. Graves Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Office of the President, Paul R. Verkuil Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- Alumni Association Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Among the records are some relating to the Hulon Willis Alumni Association, named for the College's first African-American graduate. This organization serves alumni of color.
- Black Studies Program Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. This collection has fliers, catalogs, and other materials created by the College's Black Studies program.
- Grassroots Theatre Oral History Project, 1995-1996, in Department of Theater, Speech, and Dance Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. The students interviewed many African American Williamsburg residents in the 1990s about memories of race relations in earlier years.
- List of Slaves Owned by the College, 1780, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Researchers should use the transcription of this list available in the University Archives Subject File, folder "Slaves Owned by the College."
- Office of the Bursar Records, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. The early bursars accounts (Acc. 1983.122) cover the years 1745-1770, 1743-1770, 1770-1786, and 1850-1875, and include numerous mentions of slaves brought to the College or owned by the College.
- Initial content compiled by Nancy Hadley in 2002. Sources from the University Archives include: University Archives Subject File Collection, Students--African Americans and Students--Minorities, especially see "The Black Presence at William and Mary" for Willis and Tucker, and "Jump" for Ely, Briley, and Brown; Faculty-Alumni files of Edward Augustus Travis, Oscar Houser Blayton; Colonial Echo 1971, p. 165 for Black Student Organization; Subject file, Alumni Association—Hulon Willis Association; The College of William and Mary: A History, vol. 2, pp. 829-830 and footnotes, for Poe and the Black Student Organization. See too Richard B. Sherman, Learning from the Past: Memoirs of a Would-Be Historian (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1997), Chapt. 4.
William and Mary News 3/18/1975 page 1
Alumni Gazette December 1970 page 12-13
Alumni Gazette February 1975 page 2; May, 1977 page 1; December 1977 page 17.
William and Mary News 2/4/1975 page 3; 11/4/1975 page 2; 1/20/76 page 2; 3/29/1977 page 1; 5/1/1979 page 2
Helen Cam Walker:
Alumni Gazette September 1974 page 8-9; March 1987 page 1
William and Mary News 4/22/1975 page 7; 6/3/1975 page 11; 7/19/1977 page 3; 2/11/1987 page 5; 10/2/1996 page 4
Nancy B McGhee:
- Integration at Work: The First Labor History of The College of William and Mary
- "All of Us: The African-American Experience on Campus," Clenise Platt, class of 1994, William and Mary Alumni Magazine, Winter 2003/2004, Vol. 69, No. 2.
- 'Stony the Road We Trod' Oral History Project, Jenay Jackson, accessed 29 February 2008.
- Oral history interviews audio and transcripts (when available), included are interviews of Alyce Fordham (Mrs. Hulon) Willis and others.
- "Six Friends of the College Installed as Honorary Alumni", John T. Wallace, William and Mary Alumni Magazine Spring/Summer 2004, Vol. 69, No. 3/4.
To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in William & Mary Libraries Special Collections Research Center.
|A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki|
|The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.|