Harvard Law School scraps official crest in slavery row

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

  • Published
Harvard law schoolImage source, AP
Image caption,
Harvard Law School is changing its crest because of its use of a brutal slave owner's coat of arms

Harvard Law School is to change its official seal, after a protest that it had links to slavery.

The law school, part of the US university, has a seal that includes the crest of a notoriously brutal 18th Century slave owner.

Students have been holding protests and sit-ins calling for a change in this official emblem.

A Harvard Law School committee says the seal no longer represents the institution's values.

Last week, the university announced that it would stop using the term "master" in academic titles, because of connotations of slavery.

Protests on campus have attacked the use of the official seal over its link with the Royall family, whose family coat of arms are incorporated in the emblem.

This reflects that in the 18th Century the Royall family funded the first professorship of law at Harvard.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Harvard is going to use the name "faculty dean" instead of "house master"

But the law school committee, in its recommendation for scrapping the seal, notes that Isaac Royall was also known for "extreme cruelty", including burning 77 slaves alive.

Harvard Law School is now accepting calls for the withdrawal of the shield, which has been in use by the school since the 1930s.

The school has written to the university's governing body, Harvard Corporation, asking for the emblem to stop being used as its official shield.

But the decision to remove the emblem was not unanimous within the 12-member committee, with two people arguing that it should be retained.

The school's dean, Martha Minow, reporting to the university's ruling body, said: "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."

In a message to staff and students, Dean Minow said the shield had become "a source of division rather than commonality in our community" and because of the associations with slavery it should be "retired".

There have been waves of campus protests about issues of race and representation.

Earlier this year, Amherst College, in Massachusetts, accepted student demands to drop links with its informal mascot, Jeffery Amherst, an 18th Century general accused of advocating infecting native Americans with smallpox.

And there have been sit-ins at Princeton in a bid to rename a school named after Woodrow Wilson, because of claims the former US president held racist views.

There have also been controversies about statues.

In South Africa, a statue of Cecil Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town, with protesters attacking the statue as an emblem of colonialism and apartheid.

But a call to remove a statue of the 19th Century politician from Oriel College in Oxford University was rejected.