CLEVELAND — Some students are organizing to remove the name of a founding father from a Cleveland law school.
Along the Cleveland-Marshal College of Law Hall of Fame, there are many names that Stephanie Goggins looks up to.
“It’s saying that not only can I be a lawyer, but I can be successful here, but I can be very successful,” Goggins said.
But the name that stands out the most for the Army veteran isn’t an alumnus, it’s the person the school is named after. It’s a name she says she sees every time she enters the building.
“Disappointed, disappointed, but not surprised. There’s this John Mayer song, he said “we’re waiting for the world to change”. I’m tired of waiting, you know? she said.
John Marshall was the fourth and longest serving Chief Justice in United States history. He was also founding father and secretary of state. Some consider him the most influential Supreme Court justice in history, with contributions such as judicial review. Some historians say Marshall believed slavery was wrong, opposed the slave trade, and even represented abolitionist Robert Pleasants, who wanted to carry out his father’s will and free about 90 slaves.
But Marshall himself owned a plantation and hundreds of slaves during his lifetime. He also had concerns about large-scale emancipation, fearing that free African Americans would rise up in revolution.
As a member of Students Against Marshall, Goggins advocated for the removal of his name from the school on city council.
“I’m afraid that if I don’t talk, or we as SAM don’t talk, I’ll be complicit in my own oppression,” Goggins told the council. “Chief Justice Marshall was a brilliant legal mind and he designed what we call judicial review. However, he was also a brutal slaver, and he went out of his way to be intentionally oppressive and cruel to the litigants.
Goggins has teamed up with students like Emily Forsee, who became passionate about the project after reading Marshall’s slave story in Paul Finkelman’s book “Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court,” which delves into in numbers like Marshall’s slave ownership.
“This man, regardless of his contributions, was truly a criminal, and I had my reservations about even coming here and entering this school,” Forsee said.
There was no organized opposition to the removal of the name.
But during a Cleveland.com roundtable on the topic, columnist Ted Diadiun spoke out.
“Squeaky wheels relentlessly roam our schools, buildings, statues and monuments, eradicating founders who unfortunately did not or could not resist the culture of the times. To compare Thurgood Marshall’s contributions to our democracy with those of John Marshall is absurd, but we all know how it will end…no one has the guts to stand against the tide,” Diadiun said.
Turning Point USA is a conservative group that works on high school and college campuses.
“The irony of the unanimous Cleveland City Council motion is that black voices, like mine and all those who support Marshall’s positive legacy and contributions to the American rule of law, must not be tolerated by Cleveland’s current leaders,” Turning Point USA said. Contributor Stephen Davis in a statement. “We cannot sit idly by while the mob undoes our ancestors for past sins. Instead, we should understand their legacies in full and with proper historical context while celebrating their lasting contributions to the greatest nation in history,”
But as the school hears from students and alumni, Goggins hopes the name will drop soon.
“There has been a pandemic for two years, people are finished. But we still need to keep making progress in these important areas. If not, are we America or not? asked Goggins.