Letter to the Editor: In Response to “On the HLS Crest”

To the editor:

On December 11, The Record published a letter to the editor called “On the HLS Crest,” which begins:

“All peoples throughout history have held other humans as slaves . . . . Purging the Royall crest of waving wheat does not eliminate slavery or hate.”

The argument in the letter is that slavery is ever present, that everyone makes mistakes, and that changing the crest is to “stomp down the good act of someone long dead who may have owned slaves.”

The letter proceeds by making sweeping statements, intended to minimize the evil of any one slaveholder’s actions, to erase the unequal impact of slavery, and to chastise those who wish to change the shield for their lack of mercy and gratefulness.

For example, the author of the letter states, “Most of our ancestors were slaves,” “[The line of oppression] can never be traced,” “[Royall] . . . helped HLS to thrive, and thereby [strengthened] . . . protections against slavery that Americans of any color enjoy today,” “Removing the crest means that all ends in the past and the future is dead.” The letter makes mention of Africa (in the context of modern slavery), but never mentions African Americans. The letter concedes that Isaac Royall “may have owned slaves,” but proclaims that “building a better future is not accomplished by tearing down good deeds.” She compares the “mistake” of holding slaves to the mistakes of the children at the K-8 school of which she is the director: “They call each other names, they break each other’s toys . . . We teach them that they can make amends . . . the same is true today at HLS.” And, she argues that Royall made amends when he donated money to HLS, and, therefore, we should keep the shield to honor his change of heart. To do otherwise, is to erase hope for human change.

Her letter is misguided. Royall’s donation to Harvard does not represent a change in heart. If Royall freed his slaves and gave his money to them to make up for the years of unpaid labor that they were forced to give to him, that would represent a change of heart. Royall’s money is itself a symbol of slavery because slavery was its source. Thus, his donation to Harvard and Harvard’s honoring of him are tied directly to the evil of slavery. Students that wish to change the crest do not wish to erase history. They (1) want to inform others about the history of the school, (2) discuss the inequality that still exists here today, and (3) change the crest because, as the previous letter notes, we can “only do better going forward.”

Lauren Greil is a member of the class of 2017.

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