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Slave Memorial Yet Another Result of Coquillette-Kimball Book

"On the Battlefield of Merit" continues to garner appreciation for the unseen hands that built Harvard Law.


Two years after the publication of a troubling chronicle of Harvard Law School’s early entanglement with slavery, the discoveries of co-authors BC Law professor Daniel Coquillette (right) and historian Bruce Kimball are still resonating.

The most recent in a series of responses to On the Battlefield of Merit occurred Sept. 5 at the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Harvard Law plaza. It reads: “In honor of the enslaved whose labor created the wealth that made possible the founding of Harvard Law School, may we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory.”

Among the book’s revelations and the source of subsequent student protests was the fact that the coat of arms belonging to the family of slaveholder and Harvard benefactor Isaac Royall became the law school’s official seal. The crest was removed last year.

Coquillette, the J. Donald Monan, SJ, University Professor at BC Law, who has lectured widely on the book, including at Harvard on the day of the unveiling, is grateful for the activism and the outcomes their history has inspired.

“Bruce Kimball and I are delighted that our research has led, at long last, to a recognition of the contribution of enslaved peoples to institutions like Harvard Law School, and to a full appreciation of the courage and achievements of the school’s early African American graduates,” Coquillette said. “We also congratulate Dean John Manning for his leadership in establishing this special memorial.”

On the Battlefield of Merit has also just won the Association for Research on Nonprofit and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) Peter Dobkin Hall History of Philanthropy Prize for 2017.

See related stories, here, here, and here.