A U.S. woman based in Connecticut is suing Harvard University for what she is alleging to be “wrongful seizure, possession, and expropriation” of pictures taken of 19th-century slaves.
The woman, Tamara Lanier, says, one particular man in the photos is her great-great-great-grandfather Renty. There is also a picture of Renty’s daughter Delia who was taken picture stripped from the waist up. Renty is also shirtless in the picture.
Lanier’s lawsuit claims Harvard has been “shamelessly” exploiting and profiting from the images of her ancestors. The pictures currently stand displayed at a museum within the campus.
The picture of Renty, who Lanier describes as Papa Renty, has been used by the University as a cover for a book, which explores the use of photography in anthropology. The book sells for $40.
The lawsuit puts up the case that the slaves did not give legal consent to be photographed at the time. It goes further to argue that by using their images for “commercial purposes” the University is perpetuating a painful legacy of slavery, which restricted African Americans from owning personal properties.
Lanier’s, while addressing the media in front of the Harvard Club within the New York City said her lawsuit will “force Harvard to look at their complicity as it relates to slavery…” and “acknowledge that I am a linear descendant of Renty.”
She said that since 2011, she has been asking the University to stop using these images. The images were apparently commissioned by scientist Harvard professor Louis Agassiz to sell his argument of white supremacy.
Lanier believes that the photos were taken in 1850 in South Carolina, and Renty was a slave on the B.F. Taylor plantation.
Her lawyer, Benjamin Crump condemned the University asking them how long they will continue to condone slavery. He asked when Harvard University “will finally free Renty?”
“All they’re doing is condoning slavery by denying Renty’s linear descendants the right to the only thing that a black person could own when Lincoln freed us: our image and our person. And so, they’re perpetuating exactly what the slave master did by saying that you can never own anything because you, yourself, are property.”
Lanier is suing for an unspecified amount of damages for the photos. She also said she would like to use the photo for her book that she is currently writing about her family heritage.