Slavery, Segregation, and the College

Slavery & the College

From its very beginnings,the College of William & Mary relied on the labor of enslaved individuals to build and support the day to day operations of the university. A document from 1780 entitled “A List of Negroes at College” sheds light on this brutal history. Research on Lemon, one of the enslaved men listed on this document, shows us that though the university was willing to support their slaves, they were not willing to free them. Lemon sold produce to William & Mary, was awarded a Christmas bonus in 1808, and had his medicine paid for by the school that owned him. When he died in 1817, William & Mary paid for the coffin in which he was buried. Today Lemon’s legacy lives on via the Lemon Project and Lemon Hall, a dormitory named for him in 2016.

Henry Billups, 'Professor of Boozeology'

As the United States entered into the era of Jim Crow and segregation, William & Mary aligned undeniably with segregation. Though slavery had ended with the Civil War, African American students were not considered for admission. Nonetheless, the presence of black folk remained. William & Mary still relied on African American labor, this time in the form of kitchen staff, maids and maintenance workers. Henry Billups worked at William & Mary throughout the Jim Crow era, from 1888-1952. Fondly known as “Doc”, Billups was responsible for ringing the Wren bell and serving as head janitor. He also provided students with alcohol during prohibition, earning him the nickname Professor of Boozeology. Billups was so beloved by alumni that they gifted with a gold pocket watch in 1935 and portrait upon his retirement in 1952.

Loopholes in Desegregation

The 1950s saw the Supreme Court rulings of McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents and Sweatt v. Painter which determined that public institutions of higher learning could not discriminate on the basis of race. Though this meant that, by law, William & Mary could no longer continue to deny African American students on the basis of race, like many other institutions, William & Mary found ways around it. This letter, taken from the correspondence between A.D Chandler and the Office of the Virginia Attorney General, details the ways in which William & Mary legally denied African American students admission.