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PMJA Submission: Who Owns History? Connecticut Woman Sues Harvard for Family Photos

Renty – an enslaved man whose photograph was commissioned by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz in 1850.
Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
Renty – an enslaved man whose photograph was commissioned by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz in 1850.";

Norwich, CT resident Tamara Lanier believes she is the descendant of two enslaved people—Renty and his daughter, Delia. They were photographed in 1850 for Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, as part of his research to advance the racist theory that Africans had different origins from Europeans. Lanier wants those early photographs, and has sued Harvard for “wrongful seizure, possession and expropriation” of them. 

More than 40 descendants of Louis Agassiz support Lanier’s efforts and have written an open letter to Harvard asking the university to relinquish the photos. 

This hour, Lanier shares her story with us. 

And we talk to historian and professor from Georgetown University, Marcia Chatelain, about how American universities are confronting their legacies of slavery. 

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

And, you can watch a video of Lanier telling her story.

Chion Wolf, Cat Pastor, and Carmen Baskauf contributed to this show, which aired February 14, 2020.

NOTE: On Tuesday, March 2 2021, a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge dismissed Tamara Lanier's lawsuit against Harvard University. Lanier's lawyer says they will appeal the decision.

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.
Robyn is the host and senior producer of Seasoned.

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