Colonial Williamsburg restores school for black children

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – A school where black slave and free children were taught before the War of Independence will be moved from the William & Mary campus in Colonial Williamsburg and restored to its original state, officials said on Friday.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is purchasing the building that housed the Bray School, the university and the foundation said in a press release. Once the modern additions to the building are removed, it will be relocated a few blocks to the Living History Museum campus, where it will be restored and incorporated into the foundation’s public history programming.

“This indescribable building that was hidden from view for decades takes the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William & Mary in an exciting new direction,” said Cliff Fleet, President and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg. “This important work will broaden our understanding of 18th century America and add to our body of knowledge about this important period in our country’s history.”

The university said the building is possibly the oldest surviving school for African Americans. It will be the first addition to Williamsburg’s collection of historic buildings since the 1960s. The foundation plans to restore the building by 2024, which marks the 250th anniversary of the school’s closure just before the War of Independence.

The institution – funded by a charity managed in part by Benjamin Franklin, one of “Dr. Bray’s associates” – educated hundreds of black children from 1760 to 1774. Its mission was to provide Christian education to black children.

The university and the foundation are launching a building history research initiative, with a focus on understanding the school from the perspective of families whose children attended it, officials said. Researchers at the William & Mary Bray School Lab will examine the founders’ motivations and explore the children’s legacy, officials said.

This partnership promises to transform understanding of the “interwoven histories of race, slavery, education and religion in America,” William & Mary president Katherine A. Rowe said in the press release.

“Each one overlaps with the history of the Bray school,” she said.

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