Harvard University Petitioned to Give Up Ownership of Slave Images
A petition of Change.org is urging Harvard University to stop profiting from two African-American slaves whose photos are currently stored in an on-campus museum as cultural artifacts.
The petition written by Meredith N. McKinney, who is a degree candidate at Harvard Extension School calls on the school to surrender the images and their rights.
The photos in question, made using the daguerreotype process, were taken in 1850 at a studio in South Carolina. They feature the images of two African-American slaves, a father and daughter, known by their first names Renty and his daughter Delia.
The photos were commissioned by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz to support his beliefs in polygenesis, the theory that black and white people descended from different origins.
“Laws in this nation once supported Federal Slave Codes & Fugitive Slave Laws, Jim Crow. Our own Supreme Court ruled segregation legal (Plessy v. Ferguson). This is not an issue of law, this is an issue of persistent institutional and cultural violence perpetuated by Harvard University aimed toward African slaves,” the petition reads.
The petition marked to the office of the President Harvard University has received more than 200 signatures as of Thursday morning.
Earlier this year, 54-year-old Tamara Lanier, who claims to be the descendant of the two pictured slaves filed a lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court alleging the university of using the images for “advertising and commercial purposes” and bringing in a profit.
Her lawsuit alleged university of violating the 13th Amendment of the constitution that abolished slavery. She is seeking a jury trial and an unspecified monetary amount in punitive and emotional damages, including an end to the licensing of and a return of the photographs.