Woman suing Harvard over slave portraits gets key support

National News

FILE – In this March 20, 2019 file photo Tamara Lanier attends a news conference near the Harvard Club, in New York. Lanier, of Norwich, Conn., is suing the Harvard University for “wrongful seizure, possession and expropriation” of images she says depict two of her ancestors. Descendants of a Harvard professor who commissioned a series of 1850 photos of slaves say they’re backing the lawsuit against the university. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A woman suing Harvard University over 19th century images of slaves she says were her ancestors received the backing Thursday of dozens of descendants of the professor who commissioned the images in his attempt to prove blacks were inferior to whites.

Forty-three of professor Louis Agassiz’s descendants, including several with degrees from Harvard, delivered a letter to the Ivy league school’s president and Board of Overseers calling on the university to return images of an enslaved African man named Renty, and his daughter, Delia, to their descendants.

Tamara Lanier, of Norwich, Connecticut, sued Harvard in March for “wrongful seizure, possession and expropriation” of the images. Her suit, filed in state court, demands that Harvard turn over the photos, acknowledge her ancestry and pay unspecified damages. Harvard continues to profit from the images, the suit says.

Lanier says she is Renty’s great-great-great granddaughter.

The daguerreotypes are believed to be the earliest known photographs of slaves. They were commissioned by Agassiz in 1850 to support his belief that people of African descent were inherently inferior to whites, his descendants said.

His belief, carrying with it Harvard prestige, was used to justify slavery by those who profited from it, the family said.

“For too many years, we have ignored Agassiz’s role in promoting a pseudoscientific justification for white supremacy,” the letter reads. “We see this as a collective failure to live up to our values of anti-racism and compassion. Now is the time to name, acknowledge and redress the harm done by Louis Agassiz.”

The family said their stand is particularly important now.

“At a time when racism is ascendant, from the streets of Charlottesville to the White House, we believe that both individuals and institutions need to take a stand and acknowledge our part in it, past and present,” the letter says.

Lanier welcomed the support of Agassiz’s family.

“We hope that the lesson of confronting the past head on is one that that Harvard can learn from Papa Renty,” she said in a statement. “Slave owners profited from his suffering — it’s time for Harvard to stop doing the same thing to our family.”

Harvard “cannot comment on the subject of ongoing litigation,” school spokeswoman Rachael Dane said via email.

But she added Harvard “has and will continue to come to terms with and address its historic connection to slavery.”

The daguerreotypes, because of their fragility, are kept in a special storage room at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, she said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Recent Videos

Amber's Wednesday Morning #OneMinuteForecast 10/28

Wednesday's Forecast: Partly cloudy with warmer highs

Veteran's Voices "Dutch" Bialke

National Day Calendar: Chocolate Day

Bismarck City Commission passes mask mandate with no penalty for noncompliance

WDA Volleyball

Mandan Football

Quarantine Voting

Ward County COVID Deaths

Coat Drive

Williston Wastewater Study

Linton-HMB Volleyball

Velva Football

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020 - KX Storm Team Evening Forecast - Dave Holder

KX Storm Team Full Evening Forecast w/Tom Schrader 10/27

COVID Memorial

Car for Veteran

Bridge Update

Risk Level Change


More Video

KX News Trending Stories

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss