Harvard sued

New talks on slavery reparations.

Aleah Josephsen, Co-Sports Editor

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On March 20th, Harvard University faced a lawsuit for the possession and use of photos of two slaves, Renty and Delia, which dates back to 1850.

Harvard has been caught selling a book on anthropology with the photo published on the front cover for $40. According to NPR, their relative Tamara Lanier is suing the school for the photos and damage it has caused her family. The unauthorized use and the profit they have gained off of the photo has been the face of the lawsuit.

The photos, which are believed to be the oldest of their kind, date back to the 1850s when a Harvard professor, Louis Agassiz, forced several slaves to strip down and pose for a “demeaning pseudoscientific study” (NPR). Agassiz was pursuing to prove his theory of polygenism (that African Americans and Caucasians derived from different origins) and the superiority of white people. Polygenism, according to Merriam Webster, is the doctrine or belief that existing human races have evolved from two or more distinct ancestral types. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer who was a part of a Harvard academic conference, told New York Times that “This is an enslaved black man with no choice being forced to participate in white supremacist propaganda — that’s what that photograph was taken for.”

Harvard has been seen using the photo in both a book on anthropology and photography as well as in an academic conference in 2017. Lanier first discovered the photo projected when she attended Harvard conference, one which discussed the links between slavery and academics. Lanier says “Slavery was abolished 156 years ago, but Renty and Delia remain enslaved in Cambridge, Massachusetts”.

Renty and Delia have been patriarchs in Lanier’s family. Stories have been orally passed down from generation to generation. Since Lanier has finally put a face to the stories, her main goal is to bring Renty and Delia home to continue on their memory.

This is one of the many claims against schools and their racist pasts. In 2017 Georgetown apologized for selling over 200 slaves in the 1800’s and offered to give an edge in admissions. In 2016, Harvard Law School abandoned their official seal which was based upon Issac Royall Jr’s crest, a slave owner who helped to establish the school. Slavery was abolished in 1865, yet to this day there are discussions on reparations.