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Harvard Slave Photos Prompt Lawsuit By Woman Who Says She Is A Descendant

March 21, 2019

A Connecticut woman is suing Harvard University for using and profiting from two 19th century photos of two slaves she says are her ancestors.

She is asking a Massachusetts court to order Harvard to turn over the photos to her and pay unspecified damages, on the grounds that the slaves didn’t give their consent to have their picture taken by a photographer commissioned by a Harvard professor in 1850.

Harvard University Press uses one of the photos on a cover of a $40 book published in October 2017 titled From Site to Sight:  Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery.

The photos depict a South Carolina slave named Renty and his daughter Delia. The lawsuit claims Harvard is violating, among other things, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery.

“Renty is 169 years a slave by our calculation. How long will it be before Harvard finally frees Renty?” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for plaintiff Tamara Lanier of Norwich, Connecticut, according to the Associated Press.

The photos were commissioned by Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), a Swiss-born Harvard biologist celebrated in his day but more recently accused of racism because he believed that human races come from different origins.

A Harvard spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment by New Boston Post. A spokesman declined comment to the Associated Press.

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