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Harvard Law recommends retiring controversial shield

A committee of Harvard Law School faculty, students, alumni, and staff recommended Friday that the school abandon using the shield that has represented it for decades, after students decried its links to a slaveholding family last year.

The decision comes after months of discussion and the formation of the special committee tasked with examining whether the shield’s reference to the Isaac Royall family was insensitive to the school community. The school has said the family owned and abused slaves.

“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 committee said in its report to the Harvard Corporation.


Two members of the 12-member committee voted against the change.

The Harvard Corporation is ultimately in charge of deciding whether the shield will be replaced.

“The Harvard Corporation just received the recommendation from the Harvard Law School faculty committee late this week. It will review the recommendation and make a determination in due course,” said Jeff Neal, a Harvard University spokesman.

The controversial symbol includes the Harvard motto “Veritas” as well as three sheaves of wheat. The sheaves of wheat were derived from the coat of arms of the family of Isaac Royall. According to the law school, Royall was “the son of an Antiguan slaveholder known to have treated his slaves with extreme cruelty.”

Royall used his fortune to help establish Harvard’s first law professorship in the 18th century, according to the school.

The symbol was first designed in 1936 by Pierre de Chaignonla Rose, to celebrate Harvard’s tricentennial. The image is widely used and appears on merchandise, and on the doors and stationery at the prestigious law school.

The emblem first came under scrutiny in October by a group of Harvard Law students called Royall Must Fall. The group said that because the shield included elements drawn from a slaveholding family’s crest, it should be discarded in favor of a new image.


Martha Minow, dean of the law school, in November assembled the special committee to research whether the shield should be discarded.

Minow on Friday supported the committee’s 11-page report to the Harvard Corporation.

“I endorse the recommendation to retire the shield because its association with slavery does not represent the values and aspirations of the Harvard Law School and because it has become a source of division rather than commonality in our community,” she wrote in a letter to the school community.

Royall Must Fall members said in a statement that despite the step forward in their battle to tear down systemic racism, there’s more to be done.

“This does not represent the final destination, but only an advance in the struggle for racial justice against white supremacy at Harvard Law,” the group said. “Royall Must Fall will continue to fight ... to ensure that this school becomes the justice school it holds itself out to be.”

The group wrote on Facebook, after Minow’s endorsement, that “Royall is falling.”

Students had said last year that changing the seal would not erase the brutal history of the slave trade, but instead “would appropriately acknowledge the dark legacy of racism that is presently hidden in plain sight.”

The committee’s move comes after Harvard University officials last month announced that the school was dropping the term “house master” when referring to those who oversee undergraduate residences at the school, and instead going with the word “faculty dean.”


Read the full report below:

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.