Committee Recommends Revoking Harvard Law School Seal Due to Slavery Ties

A committee tasked with evaluating Harvard Law School’s seal has recommended revoking the emblem as the school’s symbol because it contains the crest of a slave-owning family.

The seal contains the crest of the family of Isaac Royall Jr., a man who played an integral part in the development of Harvard Law School. However, because the Royall family garnered much of their wealth through the slave trade, the committee recommended in a 10-2 vote that the seal no longer be used as the official symbol of the school, according to the Harvard Crimson.

“The Committee recognizes that on an issue that elicits such strong feelings, we can and should acknowledge those feelings, but we cannot and should not presume to judge which feelings are valid and which are not,” the committee wrote in its recommendation. “Instead, we must do what so many members of the Law School community who commented did and what is incumbent upon us as members of an academic community to do, which is to decide in a reason and principled manner.”

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, file photo, the Harvard Law School seal is shown attached to a sign on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. A committee of faculty, students, alumni and staff recommended Friday, March 4, 2016, that Harvard Law School drop the official shield depicting three bundles of wheat. The image was borrowed from the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr., a wealthy merchant who donated his estate to create the first law professorship at Harvard University. Royall made much of his wealth through the slave trade. (Harvard Law School via AP, File)
The Harvard Law School seal is shown in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A committee of faculty, students, alumni and staff recommended Friday that Harvard Law School drop the official shield depicting three bundles of wheat. The image was borrowed from the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr., a wealthy merchant who donated his estate to create the first law professorship at Harvard University. Royall made much of his wealth through the slave trade. (Harvard Law School via AP, File)

“Our recommendation is limited to the symbol that officially represents Harvard Law School to the Law School community and to the larger world,” the recommendation concluded. “It is that symbol that we request the President and Fellows to release us from.”

The school’s seal, which includes sheaves of wheat on a blue background and was adopted in 1937, has been a source of controversy and led to the creation of the group, Royall Must Fall, which has called for the seal’s removal since October.

The Harvard Crimson reported that all of the committee members recommended that the Law School should publicly acknowledge the seal’s association to slavery, but not all of the committee members thought that the seal should be completely revoked. Two committee members wrote in a dissenting opinion that the seal should be preserved as a reminder of the school’s association with “those enslaved at the Royall Plantation.”

“The enslaved at the Royall Plantation and the graduates of Harvard Law School should be tied together as they have been without our knowledge for so many years, and as they always will be whether we choose to hide that connection from the world or not,”  Professor Annette Gordon-Reed and Annie Rittgers wrote. “Disaggregating the benefit achieved from the labor of the enslaved — the money accrued from the sale of Royall land — from the ‘burdens’ of being constantly reminded of from whence that money came, and of letting people outside the community know from whence it came, would be an abdication of our responsibility to the enslaved and a missed opportunity to educate.”

According to a Harvard Law Record straw poll last week, 54.6 percent of the 517 students polled said that they support changing the seal compared to 31.1 percent who wanted to acknowledge the seal’s connection to slavery while still keeping it.

The committee’s recommendation has been sent to the university’s largest governing body, the Corporation, which must agree with the recommendation before any changes to the seal can be made.

(H/T: Harvard Crimson)

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