Student group looks to change Harvard Law School seal over its slave ties

A group of Harvard Law School students are seeking to change the school’s official seal because of its ties to an 18th-century slaveholder.

The seal depicts three bundles of wheat, an image borrowed from the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr. It’s meant to memorialize Royall, a wealthy merchant who donated his estate to create the first law professorship at Harvard College, before the Law School was established.

Royall made much of his wealth through the slave trade and his family owned dozens of slaves at its Massachusetts house, which is now a museum.

Students who oppose the seal say it’s insulting to see a symbol of racism proudly displayed on buildings, shirts and other merchandise. The students, organized under the name Royall Must Fall, have held campus demonstrations denouncing the seal and demanding its removal.

Third-year law student Brian Klosterboer, who's behind the movement, said the crest is a "reminder of this vicious family."

"People say we should remember the history, but I think a lot of people don't even know about it," Klosterboer said.

A Harvard spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

The push to remove the seal drew inspiration from colleges in South Africa and England which have made efforts to remove symbols of colonization. In both countries, students have urged their schools to remove statues of British colonist Cecil Rhodes. Protesters in both countries have said Rhodes’ legacy is tainted by racism.

Royall was a brutal slaveholder who was known for killing slaves, burning at least one at the stake, said Dan Coquillette, a visiting professor at Harvard's law school. Royall moved to Massachusetts after operating a plantation with hundreds of slaves in the West Indies, Coquillette said.

Still, Coquillette, who explored Royall's history in a recent book, said he doesn't think the school should erase that history.

"I'm very sympathetic to the students, but I also don't like sanitizing history," he said. "To obscure the history of the school obscures how far we've come."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.