Tamara Lanier said she’s the great-great-great granddaughter of a man in several of the photographs named Congo Renty, who has become an iconic image in America’s brutal history with slavery.
Renty has been kept in captivity by #Harvard for more than a century, used for @Harvard ’s benefit while being denied his own identity.— Robert “360WiSE ” Alexander (@Iam360WISE) April 22, 2019
It’s been 169 years a Slave, but it’s never too late to do the right thing. #FreeRenty #360WiseMedia #BenCrumpNews
The pictures were commissioned in the 19th century by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, whose theories on racial difference were used to support slavery in the U.S. The lawsuit says Agassiz came across Renty and Delia, his daughter, while touring plantations in search of racially “pure” slaves born in Africa. The pictures were taken in 1850 and included 15 other slaves.
The suit said Harvard financially exploited images of Renty image at a 2017 conference and in other uses. Renty’s image appeared on the cover of the book, “From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography and the Power of Imagery,” published by the Peabody Museum and sold online by Harvard for $40.
In 1976, a researcher rediscovered the photos that were stored in the attic of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
According to the lawsuit, Agassiz never legally owned the photos because he didn’t have consent from his subjects and that he didn’t have the right to give them to Harvard. Lanier claims that she’s the rightful owner as Renty’s next of kin.
The lawsuit also asks Harvard to acknowledge responsibility for the humiliation of Renty and Delia, as well as recognize that it “was complicit in perpetuating and justifying the institution of slavery.”