Center for Mason Legacies releases “Black Lives Next Door” preliminary findings

The Center for Mason Legacies (CML) invites you to explore their newly created digital project, Black Lives Next Door: George Mason and Northern Virginia in an Age of Disparity and Opportunity (BLND). Building on work that began in 2020, BLND is presenting its first set of findings and inviting our community to take a journey through our “pasts next door” and related stories. Read the full announcement here.

About the Center for Mason Legacies: CML is an interdisciplinary and collaborative research center established by the University Libraries and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. CML’s mission is to preserve and examine the legacy of George Mason IV (1725-1792), his ancestors and heirs, and the people he enslaved. Learn more about the center here and their various research projects here.

Giving Day is April 8!

Mason’s annual Giving Day will take place on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Giving Day is a day for the Mason community to come together to make a direct impact on students’ lives by supporting scholarships, research endeavors, and other academic or financial needs.

This year, the Libraries is focusing on supporting our students by raising funds for three initiatives: the Libraries’ Student Research Endowment, the Student Assistant Scholarship Endowment, and the Center for Mason Legacies. These priorities provide research and work opportunities for students that help them gain valuable skills for their future careers.

The Libraries’ Student Research Endowment will provide recognition and monetary support for Mason students by funding a new Graduate Student Fellowship and a new Undergraduate Student Research Prize each academic year, once the endowment is fully funded. The University Libraries’ Advisory Board made a combined challenge to launch the initiative in 2020, and with additional support, we will fully fund the endowment in 2021.

The Student Assistant Scholarship Endowment enables the Libraries to recognize and support student assistants who have demonstrated outstanding work performance in the University Libraries while meeting the academic requirements of their coursework at Mason. The purpose of the endowment is to award scholarships each year to provide assistance to undergraduate student employees with their educational expenses at Mason.

Gifts to the Center for Mason Legacies fund allow the Libraries to provide stipends for graduate and undergraduate student assistants, offer internship opportunities, and engage students in public programing and community outreach – all in support of the center’s mission to examine the legacy of George Mason IV in its many dimensions and its enduring impact on American history.

Each gift to the Libraries makes a direct impact in the life of our students. We hope you will consider joining us on Giving Day!

Summer Research Opportunities for Undergrads

The Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR) has posted the 2021 Summer Team Impact Project undergrad positions to Handshake. There are six great projects this year, including one led by faculty affiliated with the Center for Mason Legacies (read more here). Each project will take on 6-10 undergrad students for paid summer research positions. Students can find the opportunities by searching “Summer Team Impact Project” on Handshake.

CML Team awarded 2021 Summer Team Impact Grant for “Black Lives Next Door”

The Center for Mason Legacies (CML) is pleased to announce the receipt of a Summer Team Impact Grant for “Black Lives Next Door,” an interdisciplinary project and collaboration between faculty and students to explore the environs surrounding the early years of George Mason College and its transition to a university.

LaNitra Berger (senior director of fellowships in the Office of Undergraduate Education, instructor, and affiliated faculty of CML), Benedict Carton (associate professor of History and associate director of CML), and George Oberle (History Librarian, assistant professor, and director of CML) will lead the summer team of six undergraduate students and two graduate research assistants.

During the summer of 2020, a season of protest against police-involved killings of unarmed African Americans, the legal scholar Richard Rothstein wrote a New York Times op-ed, “Black Lives Next Door.” In this op-ed, he urged more scholarly studies of “comprehensive racial inequity…that allows abusive…practices to flourish” at the local level.

Rothstein’s call for new research prompted Berger, Carton, and Oberle to explore the racial inequities that shaped neighborhoods around the George Mason University campus in Fairfax. The faculty team also credits their participation in the pedagogical pursuits of President Washington’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) for informing their proposed project. Berger serves on the Curriculum & Pedagogy Committee, Carton on the Research Committee, and Oberle on the Campus & Community Engagement Committee of ARIE.

The team of selected undergraduates will examine the founding years of George Mason College and its associated history of dislodging particular homeowners and renters. They will be guided by two important questions: why and how did the College remove from its immediate vicinity Black communities established by Jim Crow-era residential covenants? What happened to the supplanted people and can their experiences of displacement by recovered and brought to light?

“One of the things that is important to me, and a vital aspect of the work of the Center for Mason Legacies, is uncovering hidden history, particularly the stories around us and involving our George Mason University community,” says Oberle. “I have been part of this community since 1994 in various capacities, as student, librarian, and instructor. This time of racial reckoning across our country – and locally – has encouraged me to examine some of my preconceived ideas about our university’s history. I’m excited for our students to be part of this examination, to have the opportunity to uncover lost stories through hands-on history explorations, and to learn more about their community through the questions they raise during our conversations and fieldwork this summer.”

The undergraduate student positions will be posted on Handshake, the university’s career database for students, in mid-February. Primary duties of undergraduate student researchers will include: conducting field research with teams of graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty; collecting, depositing, and providing metadata description of documentary evidence in an online digital archive system (Omeka); and collaborating to produce an online exhibit which synthesizes and analyzes the collected evidence to share stories about these communities. As conditions allow, student fieldwork may involve conducting oral history interviews and digitizing relevant real estate and suburban planning information sourced from archives, court houses, and libraries.

New Center for Mason Legacies

Undergraduate research guided by CHSS faculty and University Libraries librarian fueled the inspiration for the Memorial to the Enslaved People of George Mason.
Image: Rendering of the new memorial courtesy of Perkins & Will.

The University Libraries and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) are pleased to announce the newly established Center for Mason Legacies (CML) at George Mason University. CML will be led by George Oberle (History Librarian and faculty member in the Department of History and Art History), along with two associate directors, Wendi Manuel-Scott (professor of history, integrative studies, women and gender studies, and African and African-American Studies) and Benedict Carton (faculty member in the Department of History and Art History), and an advisory board of CHSS faculty.

This joint initiative unifies scholarly research, public history, teaching innovation, and community outreach by engaging student researchers in studying the past and present influences of the university’s namesake. Carton underscores the value of such exploration: “We are uncovering hidden histories of George Mason IV, the legal visionary, family man, and slaveowner. His life and example inform our nation’s founding concepts of liberty, justice, and property. What can we learn about his institution-building, opportunities and limitations, social and commercial networks, and what our Patriot intentionally and unintentionally imparted to America?”

CML is building and curating a significant archive of unique records generated by and about George Mason IV, his family, and their many associates. The historical coverage of this archive will span the period of the Virginia Colony through the Early Republic and Antebellum era to Jim Crow, civil rights, and the establishment of George Mason University. The pool of materials will include archaeological reports (e.g. plotting remnants of field dwellings, burial grounds, etc.); cultural artifacts; oral interviews with possible descendants of enslaved people from Gunston Hall and surrounding plantations in Virginia and Maryland; the collected testimonies of early African-American alumni remembering their experience at Mason and the meaning of their university namesake; and other sources. Building on these historical examinations, CML will look at the present and host events to facilitate critical conversations about freedom, slavery, and race in America and how we reckon with our past.

George Oberle, CML director, is enthusiastic about the prospects of engaging more university students in archival-based research and the center’s efforts in guiding and supporting historical and cultural documentation. He observes, “I love the work the center is exploring because it shows great potential to sustain years of student-driven research. Our initial experience with the Enslaved Children of George Mason (ECGM) pilot project led by Professor Manuel-Scott shows that undergraduates are excited to uncover and present histories with immediate meaning to wider audiences on campus and in communities beyond. We have not and are not defining topics. On the contrary, students are developing their interests and, in the process, broadening critical-thinking skills, for example, by conducting fieldwork in local archives. Their initiative promises to enhance the understanding of our university’s diverse, complicated, and still-unknown story.”

Wendi Manuel-Scott, who is also affiliated with the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, is deeply committed to scholar-community partnerships. She views the new center as a means of engaging student researchers in a critical dimension of university outreach, which seeks to connect and enrich the knowledge of wider worlds. “When pursuing public history such as the Enslaved Children of George Mason research,” she reminds us, “it becomes our institutional responsibility as a public university to engage with as many people as possible on and beyond the campus. Our student-faculty-administrative research has influenced not only Mason but also those around us. That is why we are committed to making our findings accessible – both in content and format – to our university and alumni as well as to scholars everywhere such as K-12 school teachers. The center should have lasting, meaningful impact that will embrace and inspire many others.” In this vein, CML will provide opportunities for research, teaching, and engagement with Northern Virginia communities around the history of slavery and its legacies in modern society.

John Zenelis, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, signals the vital importance of the shared goals animating the partnership of CHSS and the Libraries, “The center is a natural outcome of student success and scholarly research. I am pleased that the Libraries’ faculty and staff are both leading and supporting our university in a way that brings greater visibility to our institution’s premier academic contributions. The Libraries offer an ideal, curated repository for the center’s archive of collected materials, community records, and academic products, which will enhance administrative, faculty, and student commitments to diversifying and deepening collaborative learning at Mason.”

Ann Ardis, Dean of CHSS, notes that “this exciting new partnership between CHSS faculty and the University Libraries is bringing George Mason’s complicated legacies to digital life for a new generation of student-scholars and enabling important new dimensions of community engagement and K12 outreach. The work that Dr. Oberle, Professor Carton, and Professor Manuel-Scott and their teams of student researchers are undertaking is a great example of Mason’s trademark commitments to collaborative, project-based learning and research of consequence.”

For more about the CML’s ongoing projects and future plans, visit The website showcases student analyses and projects, primary sources, and will be the home of an online academic journal promoting relevant scholarship.

Questions? Contact George Oberle, Director of the Center for Mason Legacies, at; or Jessica Clark, Development & Communications Officer, at