Paul L. Caron

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Harvard Law School Ditches Its Seal Modeled On Family Crest Of 18th Century Slaveholder After Student Protest

RoyallFollowing up on my previous post, Students Demand Harvard Law School Remove Slaveholding Imagery From Its Seal:  Harvard Law Today, Law School Committee Recommends Retiring Current Shield:

A committee of Harvard Law School faculty, students, alumni, and staff established in November by Dean Martha Minow has recommended to the Harvard Corporation that the HLS shield — which is modeled on the family crest of an 18th century slaveholder — no longer be the official symbol of Harvard Law School. In transmitting the report to the Corporation, Dean Minow endorsed its recommendation.

In a letter to the Corporation, Dean Minow wrote: “There are complex issues involved in preserving the histories of places and institutions with ties to past injustices, but several elements make retiring the shield less controverted than some other issues about names, symbols, and the past. First, the shield is a symbol whose primary purpose is to identify and express who we mean to be. Second, it is not an anchoring part of our history.”

In its report to the Corporation, the committee stated: “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 recommendation of the 12-member committee was not unanimous.

Two members of the group —Professor Annette Gordon-Reed and law student Annie Rittgers —submitted “A Different View,” arguing that the law school should maintain the current shield, “tying it to a historically sound interpretative narrative about it.”

The shield is modeled on the coat of arms of the family of Isaac Royall, whose bequest endowed the first professorship of law at Harvard. Royall was the son of an Antiguan slaveholder known to have treated his slaves with extreme cruelty, including burning 77 people to death. In 1936, the Harvard Corporation and Radcliff Trustees adopted seals for 27 Harvard academic units, naming the Royall crest, with its three sheaths of wheat, as the Law School shield.

Because of its ties to slave labor, the shield came under fire in October, when a group of law school students formed an organization called “Royall Must Fall” to demand that HLS discontinue using the Royall family crest as its symbol.

Bruce Mann, Carl F. Schipper, Jr. Professor of Law, chaired the shield committee, which also included legal historians Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Annette Gordon-Reed and Samuel Moyn, as well as Janet Halley, who holds the Royall Professorship of Law at HLS and has written about the legacy of the Royall family and the slaves of the Royall household. Alumnus Jim Bowers ’70, senior counsel at Day Pitney and a member of the Senior Advisory Council of the Harvard Law School Association, also served on the committee, along with Robert Katz, former general counsel of Goldman Sachs. Also on the committee were three students appointed by the student government, Mawuse H. Vormawor LL.M. ’16, Rena Karefa-Johnson ’16 and Annie Rittgers ’17. The staff representatives were S. Darrick Northington and Yih-hsien Shen ’95.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


Sorry, whiney losers, your parents and grandparents were civil rights heroes. You're just hypersensitive children who have nothing left to fight for and must invent struggles and bogeymen.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 5, 2016 10:56:20 AM

Interestingly, there may well be a major coverup concerning the black tape incident which triggered all this unrest. Here's how I saw it.
It has now been months since Harvard Law School very publicly denounced actions by one or more persons who placed easily-removed black tape over the photos of several of its black law professors, and referred the incident to the police for investigation as a possible hate crime, but there has been absolutely no followup announcement of who the perpetrators or even persons of interest are, or why their identities haven't yet been discovered.
This is especially suspicious because of the large amount of time which has elapsed without any update on the incident from Harvard.
This seems very strange and indeed downright suspicious, since the number of likely suspects - those who had both a motive and also access to the building late at night when the taping apparently occurred - seems quite small, and the culprits behind similar racial incidents at other schools have often been uncovered within only a few days.
Although it is possible that the tape was applied by racist white law students late in the evening as Harvard seems to believe, many, including some black commentators, have suggested that the action was much more likely to have been a simple retaliation for one or both earlier defacements at the school by black law students; defacements which suspiciously also involved black tape, but no punishments.
In the first, black law students had in a very similar manner used black tape to cover the pictures of black law professors. Then, just before the incident now under investigation, the well known seal of Harvard Law School itself was covered up by an organization of black law students using exactly the same black tape as that used in the most recent incident now being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Perhaps that’s why Randall Kennedy, a black professor at Harvard Law, has now written that the act may simply have been "a rebuke to those who have recently been taping over the law school’s seal.”
Another theory which has been mentioned for the most recent defacement is that it was a hoax by one or more black students, similar to other campus situations in which black or Jewish students had themselves posted symbols allegedly aimed at their own groups in order to create controversy.
For example, just about at the same time as the incident at Harvard, a black student was arrested after allegedly using Yik Yak to post a threat about shooting “every black person” at Saginaw Valley State University. Just one day earlier, a black student was arrested for leaving a rally about racial issues to use a library computer to post messages threatening to shoot black students before returning to the rally.
Kennedy also said of the incident: "maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis."
Also, Elie Mystal, a black columnist writing in AboveTheLaw, lends support to this hoax theory, writing: "Other people think that it was done by a black student to protest black professors who aren’t using their positions to do enough to help black students at the school.”
If, in fact, the new taping over of black professors was done by one or more racist white students, the great majority of law students who seem to oppose the racist message they were trying to send should have been able to identify the most likely suspects, since it would have been very difficult for them to completely suppress such strong racist feelings from fellow students for months. Moreover, it appears that only a very few would have no alibi, and may have been in Wasserstein Hall when the defacement occurred.
But if the identity of one or more of such racist law students has been discovered, Harvard may have a very good reason for keeping the information secret from its students and the public.
If the Law School now sought to punish these white racist students, it would then have to explain why it took no similar action a year ago when black law students similarly defaced the pictures of black professors, or more recently when a black law student organization openly and proudly similarly defaced, with exactly the same black tape, the seal of the Harvard Law School.
This is especially true since, even if the message being sent in the most recent defacement was racist in nature, it is nevertheless fully protected by both free speech and academic freedom.
As Charles Ogletree, one of the black law professors whose picture was defaced, told Harvard Magazine, "he believes the incident represents constitutionally-protected free speech. 'I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment, even for speech that might be ugly or hateful . . . I don’t think any of these actions are criminally prosecutable. I think they’re freedoms of expression. Nothing was burned or damaged,'”
If, on the other hand, this newest taping now under investigation was done by students simply retaliating for either or both of the two earlier instances of similar defacement done by black students, Harvard would be in an even more embarrassing position if it sought to punish them, since those who engaged in the two earlier defacement actions did so openly and faced no university discipline, much less a request that the incidents be investigated by the police as a possible a hate crime.
Finally, if the defacement now under investigation was the work of black law students, either as Kennedy suggested "to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis," or as columnist Mystal noted "other people think that it was done by a black student to protest black professors who aren’t using their positions to do enough to help black students at the school,” Harvard would be in an even more embarrassing predicament.
Having very strongly and publicly condemned this recent taping, it would be very difficult to now seek to excuse it solely because the perpetrators turned out to be blacks rather than white racists, or simply because the Law School’s administration happened to sympathize with their message.
All of this very strongly suggests that schools, especially very prestigious ones like Harvard, should not speak and act about on-campus expressive speech prematurely before most of the underlying facts are known, and that it certainly should not denounce - much less refer for possible criminal prosecution - expressions which are fully protected by both free speech and academic freedom.

Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf

Posted by: GWU Law Prof John Banzhaf | Mar 6, 2016 8:49:00 PM

Prof Banzhaf, great comment. But you forget most "commentators" today never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It's all about the narrative, "Dude."

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Mar 7, 2016 6:06:57 AM

This whole concept of collecting information before expressing opinions is downright un-American! At least in today's America. As Dale points out, what matters is the preferred narrative. The facts (and the law) cannot be allowed to get in the way. Think of it as a "greater good" thing. Or perhaps eggs and omelets.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Mar 7, 2016 8:27:45 AM

Bid now! Sure to become a collector's item:

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Mar 7, 2016 11:42:15 AM