WILLIAMSBURG — The Colonial Williamsburg (CW) Foundation and William & Mary (W&M) have received a $5 million grant to help preserve the Williamsburg Bray School.
The grant comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of the foundation’s Monuments Project a five-year, $250 million initiative launched in 2020 to rebuild and reimagine underrepresented historical spaces.
The Bray School is believed to be the only remaining Colonial-era building in the U.S. that was dedicated to the education of Black American children.
Operated from 1760-1774, the school’s mission was to “impart Christian education
to Black [American] children and the deeply flawed purpose of directing the enslaved to accept their circumstances as divinely ordained,” according to a release from CW and W&M.
“The Bray School Project will help us tell a more complete story of our nation’s complex history of race, religion and education,” Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, said. “This is particularly important today as our country navigates its way through these divisive times. We are very grateful to the Mellon Foundation and President Elizabeth Alexander for enabling us to partner with our colleagues at William & Mary to develop meaningful public programs while relocating and restoring this historic structure in time for the 250th anniversary of the Bray School’s closing in 2024.”
Restoration of the Bray School will allow the building to serve as a monument honoring more than 400 enslaved and free Black children.
This is the largest grant ever awarded to CW by the Mellon Foundation and is one of the Mellon Foundation’s largest Monuments Project grants.
“For far too long, crucial voices have been missing from the stories we tell about William & Mary’s past and that of our nation,” W&M President Katherine A. Rowe said. “We are grateful for 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. Thanks to the Mellon Foundation’s support and our partnership with Colonial Williamsburg, we can learn from those stories, acknowledge historical injustices and work toward a more inclusive future.”
Researchers announced that they had identified the original Bray School last year.
The building’s frame is currently tucked inside a contemporary building on W&M’s campus and will be recovered and relocated several blocks to CW’s Historic Area at the intersection of Francis and South Nassau streets.
The Mellon Foundation’s grant will also help develop public programming to educate visitors about the school’s history.
“The Williamsburg Bray School Project monumentalizes significant small acts of liberation in our country’s history — those of enslaved and free Black children learning to read and write at a time and in a place where formal schooling was rare and Black potential was suppressed,” Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander said. “By restoring the Bray School, we restore our knowledge of the vital stories of the Bray School children, of the families and friends to whom the children brought their learning, and of the capacious power of education. We are honored to support this work with the Monuments Project, which aims to elevate and celebrate stories like these throughout the United States.”
The building will be moved in late 2022 or early 2023, with restoration planned to be completed by fall of 2024.