Dr. Maureen Elgersman Lee walks the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg each morning on her way to work. Regal red brick homes with richly painted shutters embrace her on both sides of the street. For her, it’s another day of sifting through and piecing together untold stories of the past to create a full picture of history.
These untold stories stretch from 1760 to 1774 and belong to as many as 400 Black children– both enslaved and free– who attended the Williamsburg Bray School, currently located on the campus of William & Mary, the university at which Elgersman Lee works. The Williamsburg Bray School was pioneered by The Associates of Dr. Bray, named for Anglican minister and theologian, Rev. Dr. Thomas Bray. The school provided religious instruction and general education to Black children in colonial-era North America. Elgersman Lee’s role as Bray School lab director at William & Mary allows her to study the histories and legacies of the school and to further the University’s partnership with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
“[Through this work], we can harness the transformative power of storytelling and share the stories of this school, its students and administrators, its descendants, and its place in colonial-era history and culture,” says Elgersman Lee. “By sharing this information broadly, we hope to create more accurate narratives of race, religion, slavery, freedom and education in Virginia, the United States, and broader North America,”
This love of transformative storytelling and connecting the academic to the personal is nothing new for Elgersman Lee. In fact, it was a fire that was sparked within her in the very halls of Redeemer University.
Born and raised in Caledonia, Elgersman Lee attended Redeemer when the school was barely 10 years old. Studying French and psychology, she was deeply impacted not only by the relationships she formed, but the journey of intellectual curiosity that Redeemer led her on.
“… while I have not lived full time in Canada since graduating from Redeemer, my heart and my scholarship are never far from home.”
“I was impacted by the high academic standards and the intellectual space to make my research relevant to who I am as a person,” shares Elgersman Lee. “If there was a question I wanted to answer or if I wanted to explore a topic from a unique angle, that intellectual curiosity was encouraged and supported by professors inside and outside of my major and minor.”
As a French major, Elgersman Lee envisioned herself working for the federal government, eventually travelling the world as an interpreter. But everything changed for her one day as she was doing her work-study at the admissions/registrar’s office.
“My world of possibility opened up when I perused graduate school catalogues. Because I was encouraged to make space for intellectual curiosity, I then was able to imagine myself getting a master’s degree.”
And so, the summer after graduation, Elgersman Lee began a master of arts degree in African American studies at Clark Atlanta University. She then pursued her doctor of arts in humanities degree at the same institution. From there, she was hired into a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine.
Since then, she has worked as an associate professor at three different universities, a department chairperson, a museum director, and today, an interdisciplinary research lab director at William & Mary. She also spends her time on campus working as Mellon Engagement Coordinator for African American Heritage, supporting various on-campus initiatives under “Sharing Authority to Remember and Re-interpret the Past” and leading a university-wide teaching and learning project called “Common Ground.”
It is a full life, but one undoubtedly rooted in the soil of discovery, curiosity and making abstract concepts tangible.
“Redeemer gave me the freedom to be my intellectual self: encouraging self-awareness shaped by rigor that was further honed by graduate school and a self-designed research path, which for me has always meant the intersections of race, gender and class. Four books and various articles later, I am still marrying the personal with the academic. And while I have not lived full time in Canada since graduating from Redeemer, my heart and my scholarship are never far from home.”
And as Elgersman Lee continues to integrate her faith into her scholarship and work miles away from where it all began, she is encouraged to know that many other students—curious and eager like her—will be able to do the same at an institution that remains firmly rooted in Christ.
“Redeemer has not departed from or apologized for its core Christian values in a rapidly changing world, even while increasing its student enrolments, endowment and institutional partnerships. The reputation that Redeemer has and the respect it commands have grown so much over the years. I truly remain impressed by how Redeemer shapes and emboldens Christian scholar-leaders for service to Ontario, Canada and the world.”
You can read more about Dr. Maureen Elgersman Lee’s work at www.wm.edu/sites/brayschool