Harvard Law School recommends removal of school seal tied to slavery

The seal bears the crest of a former slave-owning family who helped create the law school.

The Harvard Law School seal is attached to a sign on the Harvard University campusThe seal is a crest depicting three sheaves of wheat, because it's taken from the crest of Isaac Royall.
A committee recommended Friday that Harvard Law School remove its seal. –AP

A Harvard Law School committee recommended on Friday the removal of the school’s current symbol, which is modeled on the family crest of an 18th-century slaveholder.

The law school’s dean, Martha Minow, established the committee of faculty, students, alumni, and staff in November after a student group called “Royall Must Fall’’ demanded the school replace what they called a blatant symbol of the slaveholding era. The seal, which features three bushels of wheat on a shield, bears the crest of the former slave-owning Royall family, whose donation helped establish Harvard’s first law professorship.

The committee sent its report to the Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, who will make the final decision.


“There are complex issues involved in preserving the histories of places and institutions with ties to past injustices, but several elements make retiring the shield less controverted than some other issues about names, symbols, and the past,’’ Minow wrote in a letter to the Corporation. “First, the shield is a symbol whose primary purpose is to identify and express who we mean to be. Second, it is not an anchoring part of our history.’’

Although Minow endorsed the recommendation, the decision was not unanimous. Two of the 12 committee members argued in a dissenting opinion that the seal should be preserved as an “honest’’ and conspicuous reminder of the law school’s connection to “those enslaved at the Royall Plantation.’’

All committee members, however, did agree that the law school should publicly acknowledge the symbol’s association with slavery.

The call for the seal’s removal is part of an ongoing effort at the university to create a more inclusive campus. Last week, Harvard announced that the leaders of dorms, once called “House Masters,’’ will now be called “Faculty Deans’’ after students criticized the term’s associations with slavery.

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