An Open Letter to Dean Minow from Students of Harvard Law School: Royall Must Fall

Dear Dean Minow,

Over the past few weeks, students and student organizations have come together to speak out against the continued use of the Royall family seal as the crest of Harvard Law School.

As you know, Isaac Royall, Jr. and his family were slavers. Further, they were responsible for the brutal torture and murder of 88 enslaved persons in Antigua in the mid-1730s. Seventy-seven enslaved people were burned alive, six were hanged, and five were broken on the wheel—a torture device whereby people’s bones were crushed until they bled to death. The bodies were then put on display to remind the enslaved people of Antigua of the supremacy of the Royall family and other slavers.

In Massachusetts, the Royalls possessed more enslaved people than any other family in the state. Isaac Royall, Jr. bequeathed part of his estate to Harvard to found the first professorship of law. Thus, Harvard Law School was founded on the exploited labor, broken bones, and ashes of enslaved human beings. The law school adopted the Royall family coat of arms as its crest in 1936 as part of a fundraising campaign. The law school existed without this crest for almost 120 years, and has only borne this symbol of racial atrocities for the past 79 years.

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.

Thus, we write to demand the removal of the Royall family crest as the official seal of Harvard Law School. Replacing the seal would not erase the brutal history of the slave trade. Instead, it would appropriately acknowledge the dark legacy of racism that is presently hidden in plain sight. Many people see no clear connection between the slave trade and the present. That is how structural racism becomes entrenched; forgetfulness and indifference are tools of oppression. The refusal of our society to remedy past discrimination has resulted in enduring racial disparities in nearly every quality-of-life metric in the United States.

We cannot stop working toward the eradication of structural racism until every member of our society is treated with equal worth and dignity. Royall Must Fall.

Royall Must Fall

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Editor’s Note: The deadline to sign the letter is Sunday at noon.