Cleveland State urged to change law college’s name, citing namesake’s history as slave owner

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Cleveland State University is evaluating the name of its college of law amid historical controversy surrounding its namesake being a slave owner.

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell, representing Ward 9, sponsored and introduced a resolution Monday urging the university to change the name.

Conwell said the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is named after John Marshall, a U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

“Though Marshall opposed the slave trade, he nevertheless owned slaves most of his life,” the resolution stated. “In the early 19th century, Marshall expressed reservations about large-scale emancipation of slaves, in part because he feared a large number of freed slaves would rise up in revolution.”

“The name should be changed because he was a slave holder and anyone that was a slave holder or oppressed people should not be recognized at all,” said Conwell.

A university spokesperson said, “The College of Law is working through a process to evaluate its name. There is currently no time table for a decision.”

Conwell said he plans to set up a meeting with university officials and students about this issue and will suggest changing the law college name to Thurgood Marshall, after the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

Reevaluating the complex history of the people buildings are named after is part of a growing trend nationwide.

Last year, the University of Illinois Chicago announced it would change the name of its law school, also named after John Marshall, citing his role as a slave owner.   

The Cleveland Metropolitan School district is also considering changing the name of several buildings named for slave owners and other historical figures with problematic pasts.

“It’s just like having a confederate flag on their school as long as they keep the name John Marshall there,” said Conwell.

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