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Woman sues Harvard over photos of ‘slave ancestors’

PICTURED: Tamara Lanier, centre, holds copies of the images she wants Harvard to release to her (Image: Ben Crump Law/Twitter)

A WOMAN is suing Harvard University for ‘profiting from photographs of slaves’, who she claims are her ancestors.

Tamara Lanier, a former probation officer, has said that the institution is “perpetuating the systematic subversion of black property rights”.

In a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts on Wednesday, March 20, Lanier states that she wants Harvard to acknowledge her genetic lineage and give the photographs to her and her family.

Lanier claims that she is the great-great-great granddaughter of Renty, but it is not known whether she is able to prove this.

She says that the story of Renty, or “Papa Renty” as she affectionately calls the man in the photographs, and his name has been passed down through her family for generations.

The photos of Renty and his daughter Delia were commissioned by a Harvard biologist named Louis Agassiz and are understood to be the earliest known photographs of US slaves.

In a statement, Lanier said: "Harvard uses the images for its own prestige and profit while denying its complicity in Agassiz’s terrible crimes. They also continue to celebrate Agassiz as a great scientist.

"Renty has been kept in captivity by Harvard for more than a century, used for Harvard’s benefit while being denied his own identity.

"I want to bring him home. I have asked Harvard repeatedly to give the images to my family so that we can restore some of the dignity Agassiz and Harvard took from him. They have refused and demeaned my claim of heritage."

Agassiz used the images to argue that slavery should be permitted in the US.

A spokesman for Harvard told the Associated Press that the university had not been served at the time and “is in no position to comment on this complaint”.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Lanier, said: "These photographs make it clear that Harvard benefited from slavery then and continues to benefit now. By my calculation, Renty is 169 years a slave. When will Harvard finally set him free?"

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates told the New York Times: "This is an enslaved black man with no choice being forced to participate in white supremacist propaganda - that's what that photograph was taken for."

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