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Harvard Law Places Plaque Honoring Those Once Enslaved by Royall Family
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Harvard Law

Summary: Harvard Law School dedicated a plaque in memory of the slaves once owned by those who had helped found the school in 1817.

As Harvard Law School prepares for their 200th year anniversary, they are also making a note of acknowledging where they came from. Harvard Law has been dealing with a dark part of their history for over a year, trying to decide how to handle their past connection to slavery.


To learn more about their bicentennial celebrations, read Happy Two Hundred Years Harvard Law.

A plaque commemorating the thorny part of its history was unveiled Tuesday, honoring those whose backs helped develop the school. The plaque reads: “In honor of the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of Harvard Law School. May we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory.” The plaque is located on a large stone at the school’s outdoor plaza.

Harvard Law, established in 1817, was partially funded with money from Isaac Royall, Jr. who bequeathed much of his wealth to the university. Royall happened to be a wealthy slave-owner with a sugar plantation on the island of Antiqua. He also enslaved people on his farms in Massachusetts.

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There is no doubt that Royall was involved heavily with the slave trade. Antiqua newspapers from his time “repeatedly carried advertisements from Royall, buying and selling horses, cattle, and people.” One advertisement read, “A Likely Negro Wench to dispose of who understands Household Business, and something of Cookery, also Four of said Wench’s Children, viz three Girls and one Boy.”

During a dedication speech, Law School Dean John F. Manning said they were “founded with wealth generated through the profoundly immoral institution of slavery. We should not hide that fact nor hide from it. We can and should be proud of many things this school has contributed to the world. But to be true to our complicated history, we must also shine a light on what we are not proud of.”

This is not the first plaque on campus honoring those enslaved to the school. Last year a plaque was placed on the Wadsworth House where four enslaved workers had worked. The Wadsworth House was once where the school presidents once lived during Colonial times.

The school recently removed the Royall family crest from the Harvard Law School Seal after much debate. Harvard President, Drew Gilpin Faust, said during an academia and slavery conference that the university had been “directly complicit” in the slave trade.

The location of the new plaque was deliberate. The school wanted it to be in a place “where everyone travels” and all who walk by will be forced to remember the enslaved men and women that helped the school’s establishment become possible.

Do you think a school with ties to slavery should be ashamed and try to hide the fact or should they embrace their past by honoring those that suffered so that the school could be possible?

To learn more about Harvard Law School’s seal, read these articles:




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