The Slavery Origins of Harvard

For the complainers of affirmative action, a policy that impacts such a small percentage of people that doesn't allow to speak about true reparation:

"In 1806, Royall’s heirs sold the rest of his estate and used the funds to establish a school of law at Harvard University.” In America the concept of reparations for slavery is generally thought to have originated during the Civil War era, with the failed promise of 40 acres and a mule. But it actually dates back to Revolutionary America, with the case of a former slave named Belinda going before the Massachusetts Legislature and asking that an “allowance may be made ... out of the estate” of Isaac Royall jr., her former master.

Royall's father had ensured his family’s wealth by participation in the Triangle Trade while in Antigua. His preferred commodities were rum, sugar and slaves. The son, in turn, ensured the family’s legacy by bequeathing land to Harvard University for the purpose of “endow[ing] a Professor of Laws at said college, or a Professor of Physics and Anatomy.” As the Harvard Law website explains, “Harvard took the opportunity to fund its first chair in law, and the Royall chair continues to support an HLS professor today, more than 200 years later.” Nowhere it is it acknowledged how those funds came to be accumulated.

The findings are a result of a project in the undergraduate Harvard and Slavery research seminar where Harvard’s financial ties to slavery were explored. Some scholars have questioned the debt Harvard Law owes to the enslaved individuals whose labor essentially funded this chair and led to the founding of the law school itself. The question of what exactly might be Harvard’s obligations to the slaves owned by its funders remains unanswered in any official capacity by the university.


In this context is important to remember the work of Carrie Mae Weems and how 'Harvard threatened to sue her if she insisted on using photos that belong to them in her series. Upon reflection she told them to go ahead and sue her; that while she might have lacked a legal case the moral case that could be made and the resulting public discussion would be an important one to engage. As a result of this resolve, Harvard decided not pursue their suit, however, they insisted on a fee to be paid every time a cell of the images was made. Incidentally, after the exhibition opened Harvard ending up purchasing Weems’ appropriated interpretations of these images for their own collection.'