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The Bray School, Black Resistance at the Oldest Schoolhouse for Black Students


Images of the Willi amsburg Bray School leaving the campus of William & Mary
Photo by Stephen Salpukas, William & Mary. Images of the Williamsburg Bray School leaving the campus of William & Mary

The Williamsburg Bray School is believed to be one of the first educational institutions for enslaved and freed Black students in the United States, and the longest standing schoolhouse structure for enslaved and Black students in the nation. The schoolhouse was established by The Associates of Dr. Bray and followed an Anglican faith-based curriculum that promoted the institution of slavery, but also encouraged literacy in its students.


Despite the teachings of the schoolhouse's only teacher, Ann Wagner, the families of the nearly 400 students who attended the Williamsburg Bray School refused to be content with the Anglican teachings of accepting their fate in America, and rather resisted by focusing on the benefits of the lessons taught in the schoolhouse which far exceeded the negative messaging in the curriculum. In 1760, for 14 years, hundreds of Black students learned from a curriculum historians have referred to as empowering, and even subversive as it taught the students to be literate and expanded their outlook through new terminology and texts that emphasized the concept of liberty!


Images of the Williamsburg Bray School leaving the campus of William & Mary
Photo by Stephen Salpukas, William & Mary. Images of the Williamsburg Bray School leaving the campus of William & Mary.

On February 10th, the Williamsburg Bray School was moved from the campus of William & Mary to its new permanent location on the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is tasked with telling the origin story of colonial Virginia, which includes the narrative of the first kidnapped Africans brought to Virginia against their will. The organization has been focused on being more inclusive and telling the whole origin stories - which includes amplifying the narratives and contributions of the lesser-known Black Virginian.

Read more about the relocation of the Williamsburg Bray School, the Bray School Initiative at Colonial Williamsburg, and the William & Mary Bray School Lab here.


Video courtesy of William & Mary. Footage from the Feb. 10 move of the Williamsburg Bray School from its location on the campus of William & Mary to its new site in the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg.

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