Harvard Can Be Sued For Distress Over Slave Photos

(JustPatriots.com)- A Massachusetts top court ruled on Thursday that a Connecticut woman who claims she is related to slaves seen in widely circulated historical photographs held by Harvard University may bring an emotional distress claim against the university.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court partially overturned a lower court’s decision to reject Tamara Lanier’s case about images she claims show her enslaved ancestors. The photographs are regarded as some of the earliest depictions of slaves in the United States.

The Norwich resident and her family might legitimately allege that Harvard caused them “negligent and even willful infliction of emotional distress,” the court determined. It returned that portion of its claim to the state Superior Court.

Even though Lanier contacted the university about her family connections, the judges claimed that the institution did not get in touch with her when it used one of the photographs on a book cover and prominently displayed it in materials for a school conference.

According to the decision, Harvard “cavalierly discarded her ancestral claims and disregarded her pleas, despite its duty of care to her and its statements that it would keep her informed of subsequent developments.”

However, the high court maintained the lower court’s decision that the photographs were the photographer’s property rather than the subjects’.

The high court decided that “a descendant of someone whose likeness is reproduced in a daguerreotype would not consequently acquire any property interest to that daguerreotype.”

According to Lanier’s attorney, the court’s decision on Thursday is a “historic triumph” since it is one of the first occasions that a court has determined that persons born into slavery can seek restitution for the suffering they faced in the past.
Josh Koskoff stated, “Harvard is not the lawful owner of these images and should not benefit from them.” It is time for Harvard to permit Renty and Delia to return home, as Tamara Lanier and her family have argued for many years.

Rachael Dane, a Harvard representative, says the school is evaluating it. Due to their fragility, the original daguerreotypes have been in archive preservation for 15 years.

Lanier’s 2019 lawsuit centered on 1850 daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia.

Both were taken naked and in various poses in images commissioned by Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz, whose theories on racial difference were used to support slavery in the U.S.

Lanier claimed her family, the Taylors, were photographed without permission. She demanded the photos, saying Harvard had sold them.