Harvard Law School Discontinues Shield Linked to Slavery

Shield shown above right began appearing on campus as a satire of the original shield for Harvard Law School, shown above left.

Shield, shown above right, began appearing on campus as a satire of the original shield for Harvard Law School, shown above left.

Last fall, students at Harvard Law School (HLS) formed a group calling for the removal of the law school’s official shield because of its perceived ties to slavery. After 80 years of usage, the shield is being retired and will be replaced by another that better represents the law school’s values.

The shield, which depicts three bundles of wheat, is modeled after the family crest of slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr. Royall donated his estate to Harvard University to create the first law professorship. He inherited his estate and many slaves from his father who was known for his cruelty.

The students protesting the shield called their movement “Royall Must Fall” and placed a strip of black tape on the seal wherever it appeared on the HLS campus. As a counter demonstration,  a sliver of that black tape was later found on the portraits of tenured black law professors. In response, hundreds of students attached words of endearment to those portraits.

A committee was created by the HLS Dean to evaluate the historical significance of the shield. The committee noted that the use of the shield as the School’s symbol is not deeply historical since the School was founded in 1817 but the shield was not adopted until 1937. The committee also found that the seal did have ties to slavery. “If the Law School is to have an official symbol, it must closely represent the values of the Law School, which the current shield does not”, the committee wrote in its report.  The Dean recommended that the seal be retired.

Graduates of the prestigious law school include 14 Supreme Court Justices, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and seven current U.S. Senators.

It is hoped that a recommendation for a new shield will be available for introduction during the School’s bicentennial in 2017.

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