Who Should Own Photos of Slaves? The Descendants, not Harvard, a Lawsuit SaysBreaking News
tags: slavery, Harvard, photographs, historical preservation
The two slaves, a father and daughter, were stripped to the waist and positioned for frontal and side views. Then, like subjects in contemporary mug shots, their pictures were taken, as part of a racist study arguing that black people were an inferior race.
Almost 170 years later, they are at the center of a dispute over who should own the fruits of American slavery.
The images of the father and daughter, identified by their first names, Renty and Delia, were commissioned by a professor at Harvard and are now stored in a museum on campus as precious cultural artifacts.
But to the Lanier family, they are records of her personal family history. “These were our bedtime stories,” Shonrael Lanier said.
On Wednesday, Ms. Lanier’s mother, Tamara, 54, filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts saying that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, and that the valuable photographs are rightfully hers. The case renews focus on the role that the country’s oldest universities played in slavery, and comes amid a growing debate over whether the descendants of enslaved people are entitled to reparations — and what those reparations might look like.
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