CLEVELAND — On Monday, the Cleveland City Council passed a resolution asking Cleveland State’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to change its name because its namesake, John Marshall, owned slaves. Councilman Kevin Conwell sponsored the legislation.
Known as America’s “Great Chief Justice”, Marshall, who lived from 1755 to 1835, was personally involved in slavery. Historians have said that although he opposed the slave trade and often worked voluntarily to free slaves, he nevertheless possessed human beings during his lifetime.
In a deep dive into his past, The Atlantic reported that Marshall owned over 300 slaves over the years of his life.
“Unlike other great slaveholders, such as his cousin Thomas Jefferson, Marshall did not inherit slaves; he bought them aggressively when he could. Whether he bought young children, or a mother and one of her children, or whether he sold them to make money, he paid little heed to the enslaved families he destroyed in his lifelong quest for more human property,” wrote Paul Finkelman in The Atlantic.
On January 10, Lee Fisher, dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, asked if the law school should continue to bear the name of Chief Justice Marshall.
“We have a special responsibility to listen to and respect those members of the law school and university community who are particularly affected and sensitive to Chief Justice Marshall’s association with slavery. We also have a responsibility to listen to and respect the graduates for whom the name of the Law School has meant access to lifelong careers and achievement.
I believe our law school naming process has shaped what we teach our students – as lawyers we are trained to listen and learn, and to withhold judgment until we have had the chance to assess what we have heard.”
In the summer of 2020, the university received a petition asking the college to change its name. The school formed a “law school name committee” of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to solicit broad input. Since then, the committee has held three public virtual forums in the spring semester of 2021 to put the name change issue into context.
“In considering a name change, we have incorporated many contributions and will be guided by our proud history, our guiding values, the mission of our law school Learn Law, Live Justice, and the values and mission of the University of Cleveland State. Decisions regarding naming and renaming should be made with due regard to our educational mission and core values, including our commitments to teaching, quality research, pursuit of truth and inclusiveness,” he said.
Fisher asked students to complete the feedback form by Monday, January 17. Read his full statement titled “What’s in a Name?” here.
Another institution with its namesake, John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois at Chicago, announced in May 2021 that it would change its name to University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, which it did in July 2021.
A task force of University of Illinois students, faculty, and alumni noted that “despite Chief Justice Marshall’s legacy as one of the Supreme Court’s most important justices from the United States, newly uncovered research regarding his role as a slave trader, slave owner of hundreds of slaves, pro-slavery jurisprudence, and racist views make him a highly inappropriate namesake for law school.
News 5 has reached out to representatives from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law for additional comment.
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