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Harvard benefits from early photos of slaves, the lawsuit states



Harvard University has "shamelessly" made a profit from photographs of two 19th century slaves while ignoring requests to forward the photos to the descendants of slaves, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Tamara Lanier of Norwich, Connecticut, is suing the Ivy League School for "unlawful appropriation, possession, and expropriation" of images she claims to show two of her ancestors. Her lawsuit filed in the Massachusetts State Court requires Harvard to turn over the photos immediately, recognize her lineage, and pay an indefinite amount of damages. 19659005 Harvard spokesman Jonathan Swain said the university was "not yet served" You can not comment on this complaint. "

At the center of the case is a series of daguerreotypes from 1850, an early type of photograph taken by two South Carolina slaves identified as Renty and his daughter Delia, both of whom were shirtless and of various types Photographs are believed to be the earliest known photographs of American slaves.

They were commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, whose theories were used on racial differences in support of US slavery says Agassiz encountered Renty and Delia during a tour of plantations looking for racially "pure" African-born slaves.

"For Agassiz, Renty and Delia, it was nothing more than research pieces," she says Lawsuit. "The force to force her to participate in a degrading exercise to prove her own status as subhuman would be to him It has not come to mind, let alone meaning. "

The lawsuit attacks Harvard for its" exploitation "of Renty's image at a 2017 conference and for other purposes. It is said that Harvard has benefited from the photos by demanding a "hefty" license fee for the reproduction of the images. It also points out a book that sells Harvard for $ 40 and shows Renty's portrait on the cover. The book entitled "From Place to Place: Anthropology, Photography and the Power of Images" explores the use of photography in anthropology.

The suit urges Harvard, inter alia, to acknowledge that he bears the responsibility for the humiliation Renty and Delia and this Harvard "were involved in the maintenance and justification of the establishment of slavery."

A researcher from a Harvard Museum discovered the photos in the camp in 1976 again. Lanier's case, however, argues that Agassiz never lawfully owned the photos because he had not. He had the consent of his subjects and that he had no right to hand them over to Harvard. Instead, the lawsuit states that Lanier is the rightful owner of Renty's family.

The lawsuit also alleges that Harvard's continued ownership of the images violates the 13th amendment abolished slavery.

"Renty is 169 years a slave According to our calculation," said lawyer Benjamin Crump, lawyer of Lanier, in an interview. "How long will it take for Harvard to free Renty forever?"

Lanier says she grew up and heard Renty passed on by her mother. While enslaved in Columbia, South Carolina, Renty taught himself to read and later held secret readings on the plantation, the complaint said. He is described as "short but high in the minds of those who knew him".

According to the lawsuit, Lanier has confirmed her genealogical ties to Renty, whom she calls "Papa Renty". She says he's her great-great-great-grandfather.

If the photos were given, Lanier said she would "tell the true story of Renty". She hopes, however, that her case will trigger a national discussion about race and history.

"This case is important because it will test this country's moral climate and force this country to reckon with its long history of racism," Lanier said at a Harvard Club press conference in New York City ,

Crump, her lawyer, added that the case could enable Harvard to "remove the stain from his legacy" and show that he has the courage to finally atone for slavery. [Lanier claims that she wrote to Harvard in 2011 describing her relationship with Renty in detail.] In a letter to Drew Faust, then President of Harvard, Lanier said she wanted to know more about the images and their uses was more explicit in 2017, demanding that Harvard give up the photos, in both cases, she said, Harvard replied, but escaped her demands.

The school has used the photos as part of their own efforts to bridge their historical ties with the At the 2017 conference titled "Universities and Slavery: Bound by History," referred to in the lawsuit, Harvard printed the portrait of Renty on the title page and projected it onto a giant screen across the stage. 19659005] In the picture, Renty stares intently at the camera, his hair gray and his gaunt body visible.

Lanier, who is in the audience at the event was said to be amazed by a passage in the program that described the origins of the photo, but seemed to reject its genealogical results. It said the photo was made for Agassiz's investigations and that "while Agassiz gained recognition, Renty returned to invisibility."

The lawsuit alleges that "by denying Mrs. Lanier's allegation of descent shamelessly exploiting the alleged damage, American ancestry research kept birth and death records through a policy of one hundred years forcibly divorcing families, slavery family names of slaves and criminalized literacy. "

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Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https: // twitter.com/cbinkley


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