William & Mary Bray School Lab Director Maureen Elgersman Lee and Oral Historian Tonia Merideth were featured on NBC’s TODAY Show Feb. 1, 2024. The pair discussed the history of the school and their work with the descendants of its scholars. Interview footage with the experts was included across two segments of the show aired in recognition of Black History Month. 

NBC TODAY Show crew and talent, including host Craig Melvin and producer Jared Crawford, were in Williamsburg in late January to film the interviews and sites connected to the 18th-century Williamsburg Bray School, the oldest extant building dedicated to the education of Black children in the United States. Through the William & Mary Bray School Lab, researchers – including William & Mary undergraduates – are engaging descendants of the Williamsburg Bray School scholars in the rediscovery and telling of the school’s history and its scholars’ impact on American history. 

Camera crew filming exterior of Brown Hall.
Filming at the two former campus sites of the Williamsburg Bray School building started just after daybreak. (Photo by Suzanne Clavet)

Also featured in the Feb. 1 segments were experts from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s restoration team as well as foundation President and CEO Cliff Fleet ’91, M.A. ’93, J.D. ’95, M.B.A. ’95.

Television host interviewing William & Mary Bray School Lab employee.
William & Mary Bray School Lab Oral Historian Tonia Merideth (right), herself a member of the Williamsburg Bray School descendant community, spoke with Melvin about the impact of learning her connection to this legacy and the opportunity to be involved in the research identifying and connecting other descendants. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

The Williamsburg Bray School has a deep history in the Williamsburg community. Established in 1760, the school operated for 14 years. At that time, the Williamsburg Bray School building was located at the corner of Prince George and N. Boundary Streets where Brown Hall currently stands. A historical marker was placed at the site in 2019.

Crew and interviewee prepare for interview,
Maureen Elgersman Lee, director of the William & Mary Bray School Lab inside Travis House with NBC TODAY Show Producer Jared Crawford (left) prior to their interview. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

Architectural additions had the Williamsburg Bray School building hiding in plain sight until tenacious research by William & Mary Chancellor Professor Emeritus of English Terry L. Meyers and subsequent tree-ring dating of the building’s core structure, unveiled its past.

In 2020, researchers with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation confirmed that a building that had been purchased by William & Mary and moved to its campus in 1930 was in fact the original Williamsburg Bray School building. 

Bray School building
The Williamsburg Bray School, also known as the Dudley Digges House, is shown in its location on Prince George Street on the William & Mary campus.

Following the confirmation of the building’s history, William & Mary and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation established the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative, a collaborative effort to research, restore and interpret the Williamsburg Bray School building and its history. 

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation purchased the structure and moved it to Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area in 2023, making it the 89th original structure restored by the foundation.The university established the William & Mary Bray School Lab within the division of Strategic Cultural Partnerships. The William & Mary Bray School Lab sits adjacent to the Bray School’s new home, in Barrett House, a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation building, underscoring the partnership between William & Mary and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Behind the scene picuture of interview underway in Travis House conference room.
William & Mary Bray School Lab Director Maureen Elgersman-Lee (left) with NBC TODAY Show Producer Jared Crawford during taping. Elgersman-Lee talked about the history of the Williamsburg Bray School, how the structure was identified and how the Lab is informing the Williamsburg Bray School building’s future interpretation through its descendant research. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

“These research partnerships in Williamsburg are making Virginia the most compelling site of new stories of revolution – stories that unite us in the path up to the U.S. 250th [anniversary of the Declaration of Independence]. These stories showcase the power of education and faith to advance liberty, to empower those who persevered in the face of enslavement and injustice,” William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe said at the dedication of the building’s relocation in February 2023. 

, Director of News & Media