The Williamsburg Bray School Project receives $5 million from the Monuments Project of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

  • Surviving structure:

    Williamsburg Bray School, also known as Dudley Digges House, is pictured at its location on Prince George Street at the William & Mary campus.
    Courtesy of John D. Rockefeller Jr./Colonial Williamsburg Library

by staff


February 19, 2022

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to support the Williamsburg Bray School Project, an initiative led by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William & Mary. This collaborative project focuses on the preservation, relocation, research and restoration of the school of Bray. The grant will support the work of the foundation and William & Mary, advancing the project which began after the Bray School discovery was announced last year.

The school is believed to be the only remaining colonial-era building in the country that was dedicated to the education of black children. The Williamsburg Bray School was a British chartered institution which operated from 1760 to 1774 with the mission of giving a Christian education to black children and the deeply mistaken purpose of leading slaves to accept their situation as divinely ordained.

“The Bray School Project will help us tell a fuller story of our nation’s complex history of race, religion and education,” said Cliff Fleet, President and CEO of Colonial. Williamsburg. “It is especially important today, as our country navigates its way through these divisive times. We are so grateful to the Mellon Foundation and President Elizabeth Alexander for allowing us to partner with our colleagues at William & Mary to develop meaningful public programs while moving and restoring this historic structure in time for the 250th anniversary of the closure of Bray School in 2024.”

The project is a partnership that can only happen in Williamsburg, where the historical structure and narratives are specifically tied to the community of Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary. The restoration of the Bray School will allow the building to function as a monument honoring the more than 400 enslaved and free black children who were educated in the school prior to the American Revolution.

The grant is part of the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project, a five-year, $250 million initiative launched in 2020 to reimagine and rebuild memorial spaces and transform the way history is told in the United States. The investment represents the largest grant ever awarded to Colonial Williamsburg by the Mellon Foundation and is among the Mellon Foundation’s largest landmark project grants to date.

“For too long, crucial voices have been missing from the stories we tell about William & Mary’s past – and that of our nation,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “We are grateful to have the opportunity to listen to the voices of Bray School students and their families through sustained research and to amplify their stories for all to hear. Through support from the Mellon Foundation and our partnership with Colonial Williamsburg, we can learn from these stories, recognize historical injustices, and work toward a more inclusive future.

In 2021, researchers from Colonial Williamsburg and W&M announced that they had identified the original Williamsburg Bray school. The building’s framework, currently nestled inside a contemporary building on the William & Mary campus, will be reclaimed and moved several blocks to the historic Colonial Williamsburg neighborhood at the intersection of Francis and South Streets. Nassau. It will become the Foundation’s 89th original 18th-century building and the first restored by the Foundation since the 1960s.

“Through their Landmarks Transformation Project, the Mellon Foundation grant will significantly advance our efforts to restore the Bray Schoolhouse,” said Ronald L. Hurst, Colonial Williamsburg Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator and Vice President museums, preservation and historic resources. “The restored structure will become a key interpretive venue for on-site guests, ensuring that untold stories will contribute to an ongoing re-examination of our past and present, and reflection on our future.”

In addition to funding the preservation, relocation and restoration of Bray School, the Mellon Foundation grant will support the development and implementation of public programs to educate visitors about the school’s complicated history. Genealogy work and oral history interviews conducted by the William & Mary Bray School Lab will inform future interpretive programs at Colonial Williamsburg.

Two groups ensure broad representation from the regional and local community: the Bray School Board, made up of key contributors from both sides of the partnership and the museum community, and the Bray School Advisory Council, made up of regional leaders, educators and museum curators. and historians. Another advisory group, the Bray School National Impact Committee, will bring together renowned artists, public figures, scholars, museum officials and media specialists to share the school’s story with an audience. national and international.

“Education and cultural awareness have the potential to transform lives, bridge divides, improve understanding and foster tolerance,” said Ann Marie Stock, Presidential Liaison for Strategic Cultural Partnerships and Professor Chancellor of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures at William & Mary. “Combining the talents and resources of a leading public university and a renowned living history museum, with the generous support of the Mellon Foundation and other donors and significant community involvement, we are activating this potential. “

The Monuments Project is a flagship initiative of Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. The project aims to ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that venerates and reflects the rich complexity of the American experience and tells a fuller and more inclusive story of history.

“The Williamsburg Bray School Project monumentalizes small, significant acts of liberation in our nation’s history – those of enslaved and free black children learning to read and write in a time and place where formal schooling was rare and black potential was suppressed,” Alexander said. . “By restoring Bray School, we are restoring our knowledge of the vital stories of the children of Bray School, the families and friends to whom the children brought their learning, and the immense power of education. We are honored to support this work with the Monuments Project, which aims to elevate and celebrate stories like these across the United States.

The investigation and stabilization of the Bray School structure will take place in 2022, as will the preparation of the site for its future location. The building will be moved in late 2022 or early 2023. Plans call for the restoration to be complete by fall 2024.

This release was produced in coordination with Colonial Williamsburg.