woman sues harvard over slave portraits of ancestors
By Erin White
March 20, 2019
In 1859, a Swiss-born Harvard University professor commissioned a portrait of American slaves in what is believed to be one of the earliest photographs of slavery. Know as “daguerreotypes,” the images were taken in a South Carolina studio and were used to promote racist beliefs.
Two of the subjects photographed were an African man named Renty and his daughter, Delia. They were stripped naked and shot from several angles. And now, Tamara Lanier is claiming to be the direct descendant of Renty and his daughter. Renty’s great-great-great-granddaughter is, in fact, suing Harvard over the images. Lanier has accused the university of wrongful seizure, possessions and monetization of those images despite her requests to “stop licensing the pictures for the university’s profit.”
Lanier says that she first provided Harvard with the evidence of their familial relation in 2011 but the school has repeatedly turned down her request to review the materials. So, now, she’s suing them.
“This will force them to look at my information. It will also force them to publicly have the discussion about who Renty was and restoring him his dignity.”
“For years, Papa Renty’s slave owners profited from his suffering – it’s time for Harvard to stop doing the same thing to our family,” Lanier said.
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