Harvard Law panel seeks to scrap official seal tied to slave owners

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 4:49 PM

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) - A Harvard Law School committee on Friday recommended scrapping its official seal because it features the crest of a slave-owning family that helped endow the oldest U.S. university, saying it is an offensive symbol of a racist past.

The committee took up the issue after a student group called Royalls Must Go demanded that the law school remove the seal. The emblem is adorned with the crest of the Royalls, a family of plantation owners and merchants whose donation helped establish Harvard's first law professorship.

Designed in 1936, it shows three sheaves of wheat taken from the family coat of arms, with the university's motto "Veritas," the Latin word for truth, scrolled on three panels across the top.

On Friday, the committee sent the recommendation for removal to the Harvard Corporation, which has final say as the university's highest governing body.

"Whatever the Corporation decides about the shield, the larger discussions about our values, our culture, and the importance of strengthening our community will continue, because they must continue," the law school's dean, Martha Minow, said in a letter to the corporation.

"We must always face not only the fact of slavery but also its legacies and ongoing questions of injustice within our community and beyond," Minow said.

Criticism over the seal intensified in November after portraits of black faculty members of Harvard Law School were apparently vandalized. An investigation by campus police into the defacing of the images with black tape proved inconclusive.

The move to get rid of the seal is the latest example of a historical emblem in the United States being removed or altered after critics called attention to long-ignored or unnoticed racist associations.

Last year, South Carolina removed the battle flag of the pro-slavery Confederacy from the grounds of the State House in Columbia, where it had flown for more than 100 years.

In January, the small village of Whitesboro, New York, agreed to redesign its official seal, giving in to critics who said the emblem depicted a white man choking a Native American.

Similarly, pressure has mounted on the National Football League's Washington Redskins to change their name and logo, but the team's owner has said the name expresses respect toward Native Americans and that he will not change it.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Frank McGurty in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)