Harvard Law School is making to moves to remove its official coat of arms due to its links to slave traders from the 18th Century. This comes after months of protests against the emblem that started last fall. Dean Martha L. Minow formed a committee to examine and deliberate on the issue, and, last Friday, they made the recommendation to the Harvard Corporation that the crest be removed as the official symbol of the school.
The recommendation was not unanimous, as two members of the committee wrote a dissenting opinion that the emblem should be preserved as a reminder of the school's connection to those enslaved in the plantation of the Royall family.
The seal, which has been used by the Law School since 1936, was inspired by the coat of arms of the Royall family, who made the donation that funded the original Law Professorship in Harvard University. The current crest has three sheaves of wheat -- a symbol that was incorporated from the Royall family's own seal.
“There are better ways to engage the past and its legacy in the present than by retaining a symbol that so many members of the community reject,” the committee report states, “We believe that if the Law School is to have an official symbol, it must more closely represent the values of the Law School, which the current shield does not.”
The Patriarch of the Royall family, Isaac Royall Sr., who came from a humble background, made his fortune in the trade of slaves, sugar, and rum at the young age of 23. He moved to Antigua, where he he had a plantation and was co-owner of a slaving ship. The family was targeted by a slave revolt and was struck by various tragedies which prompted them to move back to New England.
It was his son, Isaac Royall Jr., who made the donation to Harvard. Due to loyalist connections, the younger Royall had to flee the United States and move to England. In his 1779 will, he left land to then Harvard College to establish the first law professorship in the school. This would eventually lead to the founding of the Harvard Law School.
The committee report also pointed out that Isaac Royall Jr.’s “only legacy was his money” -- which is in stark contrast to other slave owners like George Washington, who are honored for their contribution to American history.