Harvard Law School’s New Shield No Longer References a Slave Owner’s Family Crest

Harvard Law School’s new shield sheds a design that previously attracted controversy.

On Monday, Harvard Law School announced the debut of a new design for the institution’s official shield, a shift that was made after the previous design drew criticism for its visual references to a slave-owning family’s official crest. Isaac Royall Jr., whose family crest was the basis for the previous design, made Harvard’s first law professorship possible with an endowment from his will. Subsequently, Harvard Law School debuted the previous design, which featured drawings of three bundles of wheat in the 1930s. The new design is decidedly more neutral: it includes Harvard’s Latin motto, veritas, over the words lex et iustitia, which mean law and justice.

Back in 2016, the Harvard student group Royall Must Fall drew explicit attention to the previous shield design, and also moved to demand the removal of statues on the campus of Cecil Rhodes, a colonialist that made donations to several different universities. Over the past year, a group of students, faculty, alumni and Harvard staff came together to determine what the new design would look like.

“I am grateful to the members of the HLS Shield Working Group and to the members of our community for taking part in the important process of establishing a new shield for Harvard Law School,” John F. Manning, Harvard Law School’s Dean, said in a statement. “I believe that the simple, elegant, and beautiful design of this shield captures the complexity, the diversity, the limitlessness, the transformative power, the strength, and the energy that the HLS community, in Cambridge and throughout the world, sees in Harvard Law School.”

In 2019, Harvard also launched The Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery in “an effort to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within [Harvard’s] University community” chaired by Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin. Harvard Law School’s New Shield No Longer References a Slave Owner’s Family Crest