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Who Owns History? Connecticut Woman Sues Harvard for Family Photos

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.


  • Tamara Lanier – Norwich resident, descendant of Renty and Delia, two enslaved people whose images were commissioned by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz in 1850. Lanier is currently suing Harvard for possession of those images. (@tamaralanier)
  • Marian Moore – Great-great-great granddaughter of Louis Agassiz, the Harvard professor who commissioned images of Renty and Delia. Moore and 42 members of her family wrote an open letter to Harvard in support of Tamara Lanier.
  • Marcia Chatelain – Historian and Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Chatelain is the author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. (@DrMChatelain)

Chion Wolf, Cat Pastor, and Carmen Baskauf contributed to this show.

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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