Wednesday, November 4, 2015

HERALDRY: Harvard Shield Shamed (Postscript March 6, 2016)

Harvard Law School Shield,
Now But Not Forevermore
November 4, 2015–The following story is excerpted from a story in the Harvard Crimson on November 1, 2015. (There is also a story in the Harvard Alumni Magazine.) By "seal" (which is in the realm of numismatics, not heraldry) the author, Andrew M. Duehren, means "shield".
At Harvard Law School, Students Call for Change of Seal
A new student movement at Harvard Law School is organizing to change the seal at the school, which the students argue represents and endorses a slaveholding legacy.
The seal is the coat of arms of the family of Isaac Royall Jr., a slaveholder who endowed the first professorship of law at Harvard. Dubbed “Royall Must Fall,” the movement styles itself after a student activist movement in South Africa that lobbied [successfully] to remove imagery of Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist, from the University of Cape Town’s campus.
Banner of the Anti-Shield Lobby
At Harvard, activists formally began their effort for change with a rally of about 25 people on the Law School campus on Oct. 23. [...]
Students involved in the effort argued that imagery from a slaveholding era has no place at today’s Harvard Law School. [... They] pointed to the research and scholarship of visiting Law School professor Daniel R. Coquillette, who recently published a book about the first century of Harvard Law School, as inspiration for the movement.
In the book, Coquillette details the relationship between the Royall family’s slaveholding and the endowment of the Law School. While Coquillette said he was sympathetic to their aims, calling Royall “a coward, and a brutal slaveholder,” he said he does not think the Law School should change its seal. [...]
The article piques my attention as an example of the importance that some students attach to the coats of arms under which they compete and study. This was the subject of my recent article (pp.  45-50) in Oxford Today on the coats of arms of the Oxford colleges.

Crimson staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

Postscript (March 6, 2016)

A committee of the Harvard Law School charged with responding to a student request to remove the wheat sheaf charge from the Law School shield has decided to drop the wheat sheaf, because it is associated with Isaac Royall Jr., who endowed the first law professorship at Harvard, and his father, who was a prominent user of slaves on plantations that he owned.  Harvard's corporation is described by the New York Times (which continues to misuse the word "crest" in its reporting on the shield) as likely to approve the proposed change.

The committee decision (which won 10-2) came with a "passionate" dissent from Prof. Annette Gordon-Reed, who has conducted scholarly research on the intimacy of Thomas Jefferson with his slave Sally Hemings. Jefferson's paternity via Hemings has been supported by DNA research. Gordon-Reed argues that the wheat-sheaf charges should be retained but the narrative should be changed to include the slaves who worked for Mr. Royall:
People should have to think about slavery when they think of the Harvard shield; but from now on, with a narrative that emphasizes the enslaved, not the Royall family.
On the other hand, no one has yet noted anywhere a huge advantage created by the removal of the wheat sheaf. It creates a fantastic opportunity for the Harvard Law School to reward a new donor by inserting a new charge on the shield that relates to a new gift. After all, what has Isaac Royall Jr. done for Harvard lately? If I were a billionaire with loose millions in change ready to invest in my immortality, I would see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plant my flag, or at least a charge associated with my name, on a platinum-quality institution. I am available for consultation on the specifics. I plan to post the following on Craig's List:
UNIQUE DONOR OPPORTUNITY. With the pending removal of a shamed symbol from the shield of a world-famous academic institution, a vacancy in the space has been created for a limited time only. Act now before a person less worthy of immortality sweeps this prize from the table! If you are a billionaire seeking immortality, please contact the undersigned ASAP for suggestions on Next Steps. Contact: YourFameMyJob.
Or am I being too cynical?

Here Are Links to Some of My Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . Links to Heraldry, Oxford, GW . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 

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