Lawsuit Claims Harvard Keeps And Makes Money From Photos Of Slaves

Neetu Chandak | Education and Politics Reporter

Harvard University was sued Wednesday for allegedly making money off of photos of slaves, which are kept in a museum at the school.

Tamara Lanier, who says she is a descendant of South Carolina slaves named Renty and Delia, filed the complaint Wednesday. She said Harvard seized and refused to give her the pictures, known as daguerreotypes, of her ancestors.

“Slavery was abolished 156 years ago, but Renty and Delia remain enslaved in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” the lawsuit said. “Their images, like their bodies before, remain subject to control and appropriation by the powerful, and their familial identities are denied to them.”

Renty is the patriarch of Lanier’s family and Delia was his daughter, according to the suit.

Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz allegedly commissioned the images in 1850 to “prove” black people were inferior and deserved to be exploited, the complaint said.

“The claim is simple,” attorney Josh Koskoff said, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. “You took something. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to me. And I want it back.”

The daguerreotypes, which are fragile, are currently kept in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology. The images are shown twice a year because of “their importance, condition, age, and rarity,” according to the museum’s website.

Lanier, 54, said Harvard was dismissive or not responsive when she contacted the school multiple times, WaPo reported. (RELATED: Officials Are Looking to Recover Nearly $450K From Harvard Alum Who Took College Entrance Exams For Students)

She wants the Ivy League school to hand over the pictures along with compensation for damages and for “pain and suffering.”

Harvard is one of the schools part of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, which aims to help institutions address “historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education.”

Former Harvard President Drew Faust also installed a plaque honoring four slaves in April 2016, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Harvard and legal firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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