Harvard Law School Honors Slaves Whose Labor Produced Wealth That Led to the School’s Founding

Harvard University recently dedicated a plaque in the Harvard Law School plaza to honor the slaves who created the wealth which enabled Isaac Royall Jr. to provide funds for the establishment of the law school in 1817. The Royall family generated wealth from the slave trade and the operation of a sugar plantation in Antigua.

Harvard President Drew Faust and Annette Gordon-Reed, the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, unveiled the new plaque at a ceremony attended by about 300 people. In her remarks, President Faust said that “slavery is an aspect of Harvard’s past that has very rarely been acknowledged. We must change that reality. Let us dedicate ourselves to the clear-eyed view of history that will enable us to build a more just future in honor of the stolen lives we memorialize here.”

The plague reads: “In honor of the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of the Harvard Law School.  May we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory.”

Professor Gordon-Reed explained that “the words are designed to invoke all of their spirits and bring them into our minds and our memories with the hope that it will spur us to try to bring to the world what was not given to them: the law’s protection and regard, and justice.”

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