Connecticut woman sues Harvard over early images of African slaves

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The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit alleging anti-Asian bias in admissions to Harvard.

A Connecticut woman is suing Harvard University for allegedly profiting from early images of African slaves who she claims are her ancestors, USA Today reported.

According to the newspaper, Tamara Lanier claims the images, which were taken in 1850, depict an African man named Renty, who was her great-great-great-grandfather, and his daughter Delia. Lanier says in the lawsuit that  the images were used by a Harvard professor to support racist scientific theories of their inferiority, USA Today added.

She reportedly accuses the university of wrongful seizure, possession and monetization of the images and claims Harvard ignored her requests to stop licensing them.

Harvard said it had yet to see a lawsuit on the issue.

“The University has not yet been served, and with that is in no position to comment on this lawsuit filing,” a Harvard spokesperson told The Hill. 

According to the USA Today story, Lanier’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and the return of the photos to Lanier. It lays out eight different legal claims, citing federal law on property rights as well as state laws on recovery of personal property and unauthorized use of names or pictures for advertising.

Lanier’s lawsuit reportedly cites numerous cases in which Harvard used the images as a source of income, such as the cover of a 2017 book published by the Peabody Museum and the program for a 2017 conference hosted by the university’s Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study.

She also cites the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, saying the university continued profiting from slavery after its abolition through its use of the photos, according to USA Today.

“These images were taken under duress and Harvard has no right to keep them, let alone profit from them,” said Michael Koskoff, a lawyer for Lanier, told the newspaper. 

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