Harvard could be sued for distress over slave photos


“As Tamara Lanier and her family have said over the years, it’s time for Harvard to let Renty and Delia come home.”

Tamara Lanier holds an 1850 photo of a South Carolina slave named Renty, whom Lanier named as the guardian of her family, at their home in Norwich, Conn., on July 17, 2018. John Shishmanian/The Norwich Bulletin via AP, file

BOSTON (AP) — A Connecticut woman who says she is a descendant of slaves who are featured in widely published, Harvard-owned historical photographs may sue the Ivy League University, Massachusetts, for emotional distress. supreme court of ruled on Thursday,

State Supreme Court partially vacant lower court decision The one who dismissed the complaint over Tamara Lanier’s photos, she says, depicts her enslaved ancestors. The images are believed to be some of the earliest depictions of enslaved people in America.

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The court concluded that the Norwich resident and his family could make a case for being a “negligent victim of negligent and genuinely emotional distress” from Harvard and referred that part of his claim to State Superior Court.

But the high court upheld the lower court’s ruling that the photographs were the property of the photographer who took them and not the subject himself.

The High Court in its judgment wrote, “A descendant of a person whose likeness is reproduced in a daguerreotype shall, therefore, not inherit any property right of that daguerreotype.”

Lanier’s lawyer said Thursday’s ruling was a “historic victory,” marking the first time a court has ruled that descendants of enslaved people can seek accountability for their ancestors.

“Harvard is not the original owner of these photos and should not profit from them,” Josh Koskoff said in a statement. “As Tamara Lanier and her family have said over the years, it’s time for Harvard to let Renty and Delia come home.”

Harvard spokeswoman Rachel Dane said the university was reviewing the decision. He also emphasized that the original daguerreotypes are in archival storage and not on display, nor have they been loaned to other museums for more than 15 years because of their fragility.

“Harvard continues to grapple with its historical connection to slavery and sees this investigation as part of its core educational mission,” she said in a statement. “Harvard also strives to be the ethical manager of the millions of historical objects from around the world within its museum and library collections.”

Lanier’s lawsuit, which was filed in 2019, relates to a series of 1850 daguerreotypes that have identified a South Carolina man as Renty Taylor and his daughter, Delia Taylor.

Both were photographed shirtless and from multiple angles in the images commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, whose theories on racial differences were used to support slavery in America.

in his case, Lanier argued that Taylor was his ancestor and that the photographs were taken against his will. She demanded photographs from Harvard, saying the school had exploited the pictures for profit.

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