Harvard Law to Scrap Seal with Connection to Slavery

By Sheryl Estrada


The official Harvard University Law School seal.

The Harvard Corporation, one of the university’s governing boards, has agreed to retire the Harvard University Law School’s (HLS) existing seal that has ties to a family of slave owners.

President Drew Faust and William F. Lee, a senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation,said in a letter to HLS Dean Martha Minow on Monday the school can stop the use of the seal and the law school should propose a new symbol that better represents its valuesin time for its bicentennial in 2017.

Approved in 1936 as part of the university’s 300th anniversary, the seal containsthe university’s motto “Veritas,” and three bundles of wheat, a design based on the family crest of Isaac Royall Sr., an 18th century slaveholder who was known for his cruelty to slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations and Massachusetts farms.

Upon his death in 1739 he passed his wealth including enslaved persons to his son Isaac Royall Jr., whose donation to Harvard in 1781 was used to create the first endowed professorship of law in 1815. The shield is widely considered a memorial for the Royalls.

A committee of HLS faculty, students, alumni and staffcreated a report and recommended to the Harvard Corporation on March 3 the shield no longer be the official symbol of the law school. Minow, who created the committee in November, backed the recommendation.

According to Faust and Lee’s letter, “the report indicates that when the shield was adopted, it does not appear that any attention was given to the prospect that its imagery might evoke associations with slavery a circumstance that, if recognized at the time, would quite likely have led to a different choice.”

Last fall, scrutiny by a group of HLS students and staff, who named their movement Royall Must Fall, prompted Minow to put together thecommittee.

Royall Must Fall called for “the decolonization” of the campus, the symbols andthe curriculum. They utilized social media by creating a Facebook page and Twitter account.

“We definitely consider this a victory that represents our tireless advocacy,” A.J. Clayborne, a third-year Harvard Law student and member of Royall Must Fall said regarding the committee’s recommendation. Clayborne added that the group is also dedicated to fighting other racial injustices at the school.

After Monday’s announcement of the HLS seal’sremoval, the group tweeted:

An HLS student tweeted:

Related Story: Portraits of Black Professors at Harvard Defaced

Several portraits of Black professors at HLSwere defaced with black strips of tape the day after students had a rally in November in support of student protesting racist conditions at the University of Missouri. According to the school’s website, the class of 2018 at HLS has 44 percent students of color.

Similar to Harvard Law, in December, Yale Universitystudents created a petition in favor of removing John C. Calhoun’s name from a residential building. Calhoun, a member of the Yale class of 1804, a South Carolina politician and seventh U.S. vice president from 1825 to 1832, was an outspoken advocate for slavery.

In November, students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., participated in a sit-down demonstration at the office of President John J. DeGioia to ask for the name of Mulledy Hall, which is currently under renovation, to be changed.

The residence hall is named after the school’s 17th president, and a slave owner, Thomas F. Mulledy. He sold 272 Black slaves owned by the Jesuits in charge of the school to pay off $47,654.54 in operations debt in 1838.

DeGioia said that until a permanent change is made, Mulledy Hall will be known as “Freedom Hall.”

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