On October 20, 2015, a new group of Harvard Law School students called Royall Must Fall announced its presence on Facebook and Twitter, declaring its solidarity with the Rhodes Must Fall movement – which had called for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. In an open letter to Dean Martha Minow, Harvard student advocates argued that HLS’s shield honored a family complicit in “the brutal torture and murder of 88 enslaved persons.” Adopting a symbolic replacement shield with silhouetted slaves bearing the familiar three wheat sheaves on their backs, the protesters argued that removal of the existing shield would focus institutional memory on the “clear connection between the slave trade and the present” – in the form of “structural racism” within present-day institutions. The students maintained that Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball’s On the Battlefield of Merit, just off the presses at the time, documented their historical claims.
After an unknown person or persons placed black tape over the portraits of many of the law school’s African American professors, and after several law school community meetings, in early December the student advocates widened their demands to include: a Critical Race Theory program; a Diversity and Inclusion Office; a curriculum that includes “marginalized voices” and discussions of racism; “financial access” to HLS; a Diversity Committee composed of students, faculty and staff; and later, recruitment and retention of more Staff of Color. These students formed a new group, naming themselves “Reclaim Harvard Law School,” to press their expanded demands in parallel with similar movements on campuses around the country.
On February 15, some students announced that they were “occupying” the Haas Lounge in Wasserstein Hall. They renamed it Belinda Hall, in honor of Belinda Sutton, the formerly enslaved woman who had successfully petitioned for a pension from the Royall estate. For the next four months, the lounge was the scene of teach-ins, study sessions and discussions among students, as well as controversy since not all students agreed with Reclaim’s demands and methods. On March 3, 2016, a student/faculty/staff/alumni committee appointed by Dean Minow recommended retirement of the shield (with a dissent, “A Different View,” by Annette Gordon-Reed) – a recommendation accepted by the Harvard Corporation eleven days later. Students exclaimed “Royall Has Fallen!” on Twitter.
On one matter both the student advocates and the committee agreed: much more work needs to be done. “The Royall crest is merely one aspect of this broader justice project in creating an inclusive community,” several members of Royall Must Fall had written in November. “And it is only the beginning.”
- Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Royall Must Fall: The Shield is Retired exhibit objects
In this first volume of a two-volume history of the Harvard Law School, Professors Coquillette and Kimball document the connection between the slave trade, the Royall family’s wealth, and the founding of HLS. See Chapter 3: Founding a University Professional School of Law, 1782-1829.
This brochure was circulated at the two community meetings the HLS Shield Committee hosted on campus in early February 2016. Dean Martha Minow convened the committee in November 2015 to “study, discuss, and make a recommendation about the law school shield.” By the time the Committee submitted its report in March 2016, it had heard directly from more than 1,000 members of the larger Law School community via e-mail, small group discussions, and one-on-one conversations.
Courtesy of Lorin Granger, HLS Communications
By early April 2016, images of the retired shield were removed throughout the HLS campus. One of the few exceptions is the image that remains at the top of this exhibit case. In this room dedicated to history, the image of the former HLS shield serves to remind us of the school’s link to Isaac Royall and the long-ago enslaved people whose labor helped to found it.