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Harvard Law Reviews Its Crest with Slaveowner History
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Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School’s crest features symbols from the Royall family, infamous slave owners. Photo courtesy of JD Journal.

Summary: After racial tension and a hate crime on campus, Harvard Law School’s Dean Martha Minow appoints a committee to review the replacement of the school’s racist crest.

Harvard Law School has authorized a committee to look into removing the school’s crest, which has stirred controversy because of its symbols linked to a notorious slave owner.


The student group, Royall Must Fall, had been campaigning since October for the removal of the crest, which has the insignia of three wheat sheaves. The sheaves are derived from the Royall family, slave owners who endowed the school with its first professorship.

In an open letter to the school published in November, Royall Must Fall explained why the crest needed to be removed.

“Physical symbols are an expression of who we are and what we value as a community. From the portraits of professors on the second floor of Wasserstein, to the paintings in the library, to the current composition of the faculty, the law school is filled with visual reminders that this school was created by, and for, white men. The most ubiquitous of these symbols, the seal—which adorns all of our buildings, apparel, stationery, and diplomas—honors a slaver and murderer,” Royall Must Fall wrote.

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In November, the group placed black gaffer tape over the seal in protest, and an unnamed vandal took that tape and covered up the eyes of portraits of black professors in Wasserstein Hall. The covering of the professors’ eyes was deemed a hate crime, and it spurned lengthy discussions about race on campus.


Portraits of black professors were vandalized in November.

After the tape incident, Harvard Law Dean Martha Marrow acknowledged that there was a problem with racism on campus, and she vowed to find “effective solutions,” hence the creation of the seal committee.

Legal historian Bruce Mann and law professor Carl F. Shipper, Jr. will chair the committee, which consists of faculty, students, and alumnus.

Legal historians Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sam Moyn, and Janet Halley have been appointed to the committee. Halley holds the Royall Professorship of Law at Harvard Law School, and she has written about the Royall family.

Alumnus Jim Bowers, an attorney at Day Pitney, will also serve, as well as visiting professor Dan Coquillette, who authored “On the Battlefield of Merit,” a book that explores the history of HLS.

Committee student representatives have not been chosen yet.

The purpose of the committee is to examine what to do with the crest. It will be holding community discussions, and it has created an email address to receive feedback. If any member of the Harvard Law community wants to reach them, please email




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