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Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, named for former chief justice who owned slaves, considering name change

Cleveland State's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is named for former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who was a slave owner.
Credit: Cleveland-Marshall College of Law/Facebook

CLEVELAND — During Monday's Cleveland City Council meeting, a resolution was introduced urging that the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University change its name. The school is named after former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. 

The resolution, introduced by Councilman Kevin Conwell, states that historians believe Marshall owned hundreds of slaves on his several properties in various states. "Though Marshall opposed the slave trade, he nevertheless owned slaves most of his life," the resolution added.

Even before Monday's council resolution was announced, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law has been taking a long, hard look at its name.

As the nation was swept up in the calls for racial justice amid the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, a petition calling for the removal of Marshall's name was sent to both the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at CSU, as well as at the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law responded by forming a committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to begin the process of reviewing whether the name 'Marshall' should be removed. In 2021, the college held a series of six public forums to consider the matter. Three public virtual forums looked at how historians view institutional name changes and how other schools were handling similar cases. Three community town halls then allowed students, staff, faculty, and many alumni to express their views. The committee pieced together a framing document laying out the arguments for and against changing the name, plus some alternative naming options. 

Law school and CSU community members are encouraged to fill out a feedback form between now and January 17. The college will then submit its findings to Cleveland State University, which has the ultimate authority on whether or not Cleveland-Marshall College of Law will change its name. 

A spokesperson for Cleveland State University had no comment for 3News other than to say that "the College of Law is working through a process evaluating its name." 3News has also reached out to Councilman Conwell for response and will post a reaction in this story.  

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