By Bo Thornton
A growing number of students at Harvard Law School would like to see its official seal changed because of its ties to an 18th-century slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr. Isaac Royall Jr. was a brutal slaveholder, according to one Harvard Law professor. He was born into a colonial-era family of wealthy Triangle Trade merchants and owned about sixty slaves. At one point, Royall and his father brokered the sale of 121 human beings in one day. Another time, they had 77 slaves burned alive at the stake following a failed rebellion.
The Harvard Law School seal is taken from the Royall family coat of arms. It has 3 bundles of wheat and is meant as an ongoing tribute to Royall. Isaac Royall Jr., a known slave trader who owned slaves at his home in Massachusetts during the 18th century, willed his estate, which led to the creation of the first law professorship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Students opposing the seal, see it as a symbol of racism. They feel that it is wrong that this seal is prominently displayed on prestigious buildings, such as Langdell Hall, the Law Library. The seal is also proudly displayed on official Harvard shirts and other Harvard merchandise. Judging by a growing number of likes on their Facebook page, it is said to be a great start to a worthy cause.
There are those opposing the movement as well. Yale Dean Jonathan Holloway stated that some of these controversial things should remain “as an open sore, frankly, for the very purpose of having conversations about this.”
Holloway continued, “I’ve seen too many instances where Americans have very happily allowed themselves to be amnesiac and changed the name of something and walked away.”
If the Law School changed its crest, it would simply generate a “so what?” question. It would serve no political or symbolic good, while effectively exempting the need for any conversation on the subject. Rather than the Royall coat of arms falling from the Law School seal, it should remain as a reminder of Harvard’s darker past and the drastically different moral code we embrace today.
The students have organized this movement under the name Royall Must Fall. They claim that they were inspired by similar movements at colleges in South Africa and England to remove symbols of colonization.
Approximately 2,000 students attend Harvard University’s Law School in suburban Boston each year. A school spokeswoman has declined to comment, when asked about Royall involvement with slavery and the ensuing Royall Must Fall student movement.