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Harvard Law School Pledges $500,000 Gift to Royall House and Slave Quarters

The Royall House and Slave Quarters is a museum located in Medford, Massachusetts.
The Royall House and Slave Quarters is a museum located in Medford, Massachusetts. By Joey Huang
By Jo B. Lemann and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Law School announced a gift of $500,000 to the Royall House and Slave Quarters on Wednesday as part of a continued effort to recognize the University’s historical ties to slavery.

The Royall House and Slave Quarters, a museum in Medford, Massachusetts, is located on the former plantation of the Royall family, which was the largest slaveholding family in the state. At least 60 enslaved people lived on the plantation, and their forced labor contributed to the Royall’s fortune.

Isaac Royall Jr. bequeathed an endowed professorship in 1781 that became Harvard’s first professorship of law and the forerunner of the Law School. In 2016, HLS retired its school seal — which contained the Royall family’s crest — due to its connections to slavery. The school unveiled a new seal in 2021 and permanently retired the Royall Professorship of Law last year.

According to the school’s press release, HLS and Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences aim to work with the Royall House and Slave Quarters on “future research and educational programming” and facilitate visits by Harvard affiliates to the site “for reflection, learning, and research.”

In recent years, Harvard has worked to study and confront the role slavery played in its rise to prominence. The University released its landmark Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery report in April 2022, which includes mentions of Isaac Royall Jr. and the Royall family’s connections to the University.

The report also acknowledged HLS professor Janet E. Halley’s research into Isaac Royall Jr. in 2008, which inspired students to advocate for the Law School’s seal to be changed.

HLS Dean John F. Manning ’82 said in the press release that the school has “grappled with the painful history” of its origins.

“Our work with the Royall House and Slave Quarters will help us continue together to acknowledge, learn from, and share with others our complicated history, to honor and commemorate the enslaved people whose labor generated wealth that contributed to the establishment of our law school, and to better understand and address the ongoing legacy of slavery in today’s society,” Manning said.

Kyera Singleton, the executive director of the Royall House and Slave Quarters, said in the release that she hopes the Law School’s donation to the museum will help educate more people about “how the legacies of slavery impact communities, particularly Black communities and communities of color, today.”

“To understand contemporary society, we all must contend with the history of slavery and the institutions it founded and shaped in our own backyards,” Singleton said.

—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at jo.lemann@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.

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