College of William and Mary Honoring the First Black Students Who Lived on Campus

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Black residential students on campus by creating a mural that will be permanently displayed at the university’s Swen Library.

In the fall of 1967, Lynn Briley, Karen Ely, and Janet Brown, became the first African American students to live in residential housing. All three graduated four years later in 1971. The three woman all came to the university last month to have bronze casts made of their faces, which will be included on the mural.

Bob Leek, a local Potter who participated in the creation of the bronze masks, stated that “this is an amazing process, and what we’re going to create is just going to be amazing; it’s just going to be very powerful.”

The mural will be unveiled on August 31. A video about the making of the masks of the three women can be seen below.

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  1. This is a fascinating story about William and Mary’s integration pioneers, but it must be placed in the context of African American freshman enrolling at predominantly white campuses and moving into residence halls all over the United States in 1967. We had a very similar experience with a mix of freshmen and transfers at Millersville University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1968 when it was the first time this campus happened to have five African American males on campus who were matriculating and living in the residence halls. And I personally ran into other African American pioneers that had enrolled at predominantly white campuses even earlier in the sixties and stood against the tide of racist sentiment either by themselves or with one other African American student. All hail to the individual pioneers because their suffering I have shared, but let us remember that they were but a small part of a much larger movement which would go on and begin a transformation of higher education that continues until this day..

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