Harvard University Sued For Allegedly Profiting From Photos Of Slaves
Tamara Lanier of Connecticut is suing Harvard University for exploiting and chargin a “hefty” licensing fee to reporduce images of 19th-century South Carolina slaves; since identified as Renty and his daughter Delia, who she claims are her ancestors.
Additionally, Lanier is suing the Ivy League after they allegedy ignored her requests to release the photographs (aka daguerreotypes), originally commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz to promote polygenism; a theory, now-debunked, that claimed whites were the superior human race.
While the school reportedly used the images at a 2017 conference, charges a “hefty” liensing fee to reproduce, and sells a book (From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery) featuring Renty’s portrait across its cover, Lanier affirms Agassiz never received Renty’s consent to commission, and that she has evidence proving she’s the great-great-great-granddaughter of Renty, therefore the rightful owner as next of kin.
The suit states, “To Agassiz, Renty and Delia were nothing more than research specimens. The violence of compelling them to participate in a degrading exercise designed to prove their own subhuman status would not have occurred to him, let alone mattered.”
Furthermore, Lanier is suing for wrongful seizure, possession and monetization of photos, ignoring her requests to “stop licensing the pictures for the university’s profit” and misrepresenting her ancestors. She is also demanding the school to pay unspecified damages and to acknowledge that it “was complicit in perpetuating and justifying the institution of slavery.”
In addition, she adds, “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.”