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William & Mary drops a Confederate emblem and moves a plaque

The College of William & Mary’s ceremonial mace. (Photo courtesy the College of William & Mary)

The College of William & Mary, one of the most historic locales in Virginia, said Friday it is scrubbing imagery of the Confederacy from its ceremonial silver mace and has removed a plaque honoring rebel soldiers from a prominent location in its iconic Wren Building.

With those moves, the prestigious public college in Williamsburg joined other institutions that have decided to remove Confederate emblems — or scale back their display — following the massacre in June at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. A white man was arrested in the church shootings and faces federal hate crime charges.

South Carolina last month took down a Confederate battle flag that had flown for decades on the statehouse grounds. On Thursday, the University of Texas at Austin said it will move a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from a significant outdoor location, where it had been since 1933, to an indoor historic exhibit.

[UT relocates Confederate statue.]

William & Mary, founded in 1693, was the second college established in the English colonies, after Harvard. Thomas Jefferson studied at the Williamsburg college in the 18th century. Like many others in the South, the college endured great turmoil in the 19th century during the Civil War.

After the war, some people sought to commemorate the Confederacy at William & Mary in certain ways that the college leadership now says must change.

The mace — which alumni, students and faculty gave to the college in 1923 — includes an image of the Confederate battle flag and an image of the Confederate seal. Those images will be removed.

The plaque, erected in 1914, lists students and faculty who fought for the Confederacy and includes an image of the battle flag. It has been taken down from a position in the Wren Building and placed in a special collections room in the Swem Library with other historic artifacts.

W. Taylor Reveley III, president of the college, said in a message to the college community that he consulted with its governing board before making the changes.

“We want to be a place that is welcoming to everyone who is part of our university’s life,” Reveley wrote. “We are also an institution deeply rooted in history and committed to understanding our part in it.”

Reveley said the plaque will be replaced inside the Wren Building with another plaque that provides “as complete an account as research permits” of people from William & Mary who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

Gen. Winfield Scott, who conceived of the Union’s “Anaconda” plan to crush the Confederacy through blockade, attended William & Mary.

“We do not seek to put William & Mary’s part in the Civil War out of sight or mind,” Reveley wrote. “The College barely survived the physical, financial and human carnage of that conflict. Nor do we seek to avoid examining and learning from William & Mary’s role in slavery, secession and segregation.”

Reveley said the mace, used in convocations and commencements, is “a living artifact” and has at other times been altered.

“The Confederate battle flag and seal will be replaced on the mace before it returns to ceremonial use,” he wrote. “Though the new emblems have yet to be determined, they will reflect the College’s history, including the Civil War.”