Harvard Sued for Profiting from Photos of Enslaved People

Robert Valencia
Mar 21, 2019 - 8:39
Harvard Sued for Profiting from Photos of Enslaved People

A Connecticut woman has filed a lawsuit against Harvard University on the grounds that the institution has “wrongfully” seized, possessed, and expropriated images of her ancestors. The images are of her family’s patriarch, known as “Renty,” and his daughter Delia, both enslaved in South Carolina in the 19th century, according to a suit filed in Massachusetts state court and obtained by The North Star. Tamara Lanier is demanding Harvard return the photos, recognize her ancestry, and pay an undisclosed amount of money in damages, attorney’s fees, among other requests. The series of 1850 daguerreotypes, in which both...

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3 Replies to “Harvard Sued for Profiting from Photos of Enslaved People”

  1. Not surrprised one bit about Faust’s response given her explicit statement that the university would not look into Harvard’s role in the slave trade. Interesting though that this woman makes getting the photos a condition for sharing Rent’s story. Not sure what that is about.

  2. Thanks for covering this story. Such an important, precedent-setting lawsuit. I have read in other press reports about it, however, that there is some dispute about whether Tamara Lanier has sufficiently documented that the people in the photographs are indeed her relatives. Maybe there are more articles to come about this, but I would have expected The North Star to dig deeper into the story than other news outlets and address this question directly. Simply reporting what is written in a lawsuit and taking that at face value is not investigating reporting. Also, in the event that the familial link cannot be established, would there still be grounds for a lawsuit on behalf of all descendants of enslaved Black people in the U.S. to claim that these photos are not the legitimate property of Harvard and should be, for example, donated to the National Museum of African American History in DC?

  3. Thanks for this story. I think whatever the outcome is, this is an opportunity for Harvard to dig deeper into higher education’s role in creating/reinforcing damaging racial stereotypes. The lawsuit also brings up the concept of ownership which is also worthy of deeper discussion. I like Serena’s idea about putting the photo into the public trust such as the National Museum of African American History. Does the national museum have traveling exhibits for those that don’t get to D.C.?

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