Another part of Royall’s legacy, however, is that he was a slaveholder. You can still visit the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Massachusetts, which was “home to the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts and the enslaved Africans who made their lavish way of life possible,” according to its Web site.
Royall died in the 18th century, but has not been forgotten at Harvard Law, where some students are now calling attention to the crest, according to the Harvard Crimson. The student newspaper reports that a small group has set up a Facebook group and is looking to do more — including advocating for the crest’s removal.
“These symbols set the tone for the rest of the school and the fact that we hold up the Harvard crest as something to be proud of when it represents something so ugly is a profound disappointment and should be a source of shame for the whole school,” law student Alexander J. Clayborne told the newspaper.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Clayborne said the effort, called Royall Must Fall, came about because some people on campus were looking for ways to support those in South Africa who were calling for the removal of a statue commemorating Cecil Rhodes. The statue of the British colonialist, located on the University of Cape Town campus, was taken down in April.
As students thought about Rhodes and the issues in Cape Town, they also thought about what symbols on their own campus might need to change. At Harvard, the crest featuring Royall’s coat-of-arms was seen as an analog to the statue of Rhodes, Clayborne said.
“At a place like Harvard Law School at least, I think it’s nonsense that we can’t find something better,” said Clayborne, a third-year student at the school.
This issue isn’t really unique to the Harvard campus, of course, and these types of conversations aren’t new there, either.
When Janet Halley was named the school’s Royall Professor of Law, she noted Royall’s legacy in her speech. And Dan Coquillette, a visiting Harvard Law professor, has co-authored a book on the school, which explores its past.
Coquillette told The Post he felt it was important to understand the history of the institution, including Royall’s background. He’s a historian, he said, and believes in telling the truth about the past. Coquillette doesn’t think changing the seal is the best approach, he said, but he also doesn’t think conversations about Royall should stop.
“I don’t see any point in trying to rewrite history by pretending that somebody else founded the school and changing the coat of arms,” Coquillette said. “I mean, that’s what happened. That’s the fact.
“The question is — can we use that as a way of educating people about the challenges we have today.”
A Harvard Law spokeswoman declined to comment on the effort.