CLEVELAND — On Monday, Cleveland City Council adopted a resolution asking Cleveland State's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to change its name because its namesake, John Marshall, was a slave owner. Councilman Kevin Conwell sponsored the legislation.
Known as America’s “Great Chief Justice,” Marshall, who lived from 1755 to 1835, had a personal investment in enslaved people. Historians said that although he opposed the slave trade and often took pro-bono work to free slaves, he nonetheless owned human beings during the course of his life.
In a deep dive into his past, The Atlantic reported that Marshall owned more than 300 slaves during the years of his life.
"Unlike other major slaveholders, such as his cousin Thomas Jefferson, Marshall did not inherit enslaved people; he aggressively bought them when he could. Whether buying young children, or a mother and one of her children, or selling them to raise cash, he paid little attention to the enslaved families he destroyed in his lifelong quest for more human property,” Paul Finkelman wrote in The Atlantic.
On Jan, 10, Lee Fisher, Dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, asked for feedback on whether the law school should continue to be named after Chief Justice Marshall.
"We have a special responsibility to listen to and respect Law School and University community members who are particularly affected by and sensitive to Chief Justice Marshall’s association with slavery. We also have a responsibility to listen to and respect those graduates for whom the name of the Law School has meant access to careers and life-long accomplishments.
I believe that our law school name process has modeled what we teach our students- as lawyers, we are trained to listen and learn, and to withhold judgment until we have had a chance to evaluate what we have heard."
In the summer of 2020, the university received a petition asking for the college to change its name. The school formed a "Law School Name Committee" consisting of faculty, staff, students and alumni to seek wide input. Since then, the committee hosted three public virtual forums during the 2021 spring semester to provide context to the issue of changing the name.
"In considering a name change, we have incorporated wide input and will be guided by our proud history, our guiding values, our Law School’s mission Learn Law, Live Justice, and the values and mission of Cleveland State University. Decisions about naming and renaming must be made with due regard for our educational mission and core values, including our commitments to teaching, quality research, truth-seeking, and inclusivity," he said.
Fisher asked students to fill out the feedback form by Monday, Jan. 17. Read his full statement titled "What's in a name?" here.
Another institution with his namesake, the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois at Chicago, announced in May 2021 that it would change its name to the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, which it did in July 2021.
A task force made up of students, faculty and alumni at the University of Illinois noted, “that despite Chief Justice Marshall’s legacy as one of the nation’s most significant U.S. Supreme Court justices, the newly discovered research regarding his role as a slave trader, slave owner of hundreds of slaves, pro-slavery jurisprudence, and racist views render him a highly inappropriate namesake for the Law School.”
News 5 has reached out to representatives of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law for additional comments.
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