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March 20, 2019

A Connecticut woman says Harvard University has been making money off of images of her slave ancestors, and she wants that to end.

Tamara Lanier filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Massachusetts, claiming that Harvard exploited the images of her great-great-great-grandfather Renty and his daughter, Delia, who were slaves in South Carolina. In the suit, Lanier says a Harvard scientist, Louis Agassiz, went to the South in 1850 to "prove" black people are inferior and to "justify their subjugation, exploitation, and segregation." The photos were taken after he ordered Renty and Delia to take off their clothes.

Harvard has profited from the images, Lanier argues, because Renty's picture was used at the 2017 conference "Universities and Slavery: Bound in History" and placed on the cover of a $40 book about photography and anthropology, NBC News reports. The suit says Renty and Delia's images, "like their bodies before, remain subject to control and appropriation by the powerful, and their familial identities are denied to them." Lanier is asking for Harvard to give her the images, as well as unspecified damages. Catherine Garcia

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