2. SOUNDBITE (English) Josh Koskoff, Attorney for Slaves' Descendant
"169 years ago, Harvard University supported and fostered a celebrity scientist, a man named Louis Agassiz, who, just as the time that Darwin was educating the rest of civilized society that we all come from the same place, Agassiz was perpetuating a different kind of science under the banner of Harvard. And Harvard supported Agassiz as he went down to a southern plantation and he dragged two enslaved people -- many more more enslaved people -- but the enslaved people that are the ancestors of our client into a studio in Columbia, South Carolina for the stated purpose of proving the inferiority of the black race."
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3. SOUNDBITE (English) Josh Koskoff, Attorney for Slaves' Descendant
"Renty was dragged into the studio and they took the only thing that hadn't been taken yet from Renty, and that was his image because he could not own property. And since 1850, Harvard has had some role in that, and they continue to keep the image and use it to for profit and prestige."
"This case is important because it will test the moral climate of this country and force this country to reckon with its long history of racism. Specifically, this case will force Harvard to look at their complicity as it relates to slavery, and finally answer the questions about their role, and also to acknowledge that I am the linear descendant of Renty."
6. Wide of Tamara Lanier
7. SOUNDBITE (English) Tamara Lanier, Slaves' Descendant AND Benjamin Crump, attorney for Lanier
LANIER: "And we can document that if you requested to use this image for purposes of exposing Agassiz as the original hate teacher, then Harvard will deny you access to the image. What I hope we're able to accomplish is to show the world who Renty is and tell that story."
REPORTER: "Would you make it available to the public?"
LANIER: "For everyone to see."
8. SOUNDBITE (English) Benjamin Crump, Attorney for Lanier
CRUMP: "We want to take it on tour before it's loaned out to museums so people who are the descendants of the slaves can see it and Detroit, can see it and Oakland, can see it in St. Lewis, Los Angeles and they can learn the lesson of Renty and they can learn the lesson of how America and all its major institutions, whether educational or industrial, were proponents of trying to enslave Africans and keep slavery good for business. That's what it was -- it was business."
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9. SOUNDBITE (English) Benjamin Crump, Attorney for Lanier
"Because so many black people in America -- we cannot trace our linear descendants because we were sold from one plantation to the next and given different names and stripped of our heritage, stripped of identity. And so, what Tammy has done is nothing short of miraculous and we look forward to being able to prove not only in the court of law, but in the court of public opinion what she has accomplished."
Harvard University has "shamelessly" turned a profit from photos of two 19th-century slaves while ignoring requests to turn the photos over to the slaves' descendants, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Tamara Lanier, of Norwich, Connecticut, is suing the Ivy League school for "wrongful seizure, possession and expropriation" of images she says depict two of her ancestors. Her suit, filed in Massachusetts state court, demands that Harvard immediately turn over the photos, acknowledge her ancestry and pay an unspecified sum in damages.
Harvard spokesman Jonathan Swain said the university "has not yet been served, and with that is in no position to comment on this complaint."
At the center of the case is a series of 1850 daguerreotypes, an early type of photo, taken of two South Carolina slaves identified as Renty and his daughter, Delia.
Both were posed shirtless and photographed from several angles. The images are believed to be the earliest known photos of American slaves.
They were commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, whose theories on racial difference were used to support slavery in the U.S.
The lawsuit says Agassiz came across Renty and Delia while touring plantations in search of racially "pure" slaves born in Africa.
The suit attacks Harvard for its "exploitation" of Renty's image at a 2017 conference and in other uses.
It says Harvard has capitalized on the photos by demanding a "hefty" licensing fee to reproduce the images. It also draws attention to a book Harvard sells for $40 with Renty's portrait on the cover.
The, called "From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery," explores the use of photography in anthropology.
Among other demands, the suit asks Harvard to acknowledge that it bears responsibility for the humiliation of Renty and Delia, and that Harvard "was complicit in perpetuating and justifying the institution of slavery."
The suit says Lanier has verified her genealogical ties to Renty, whom she calls "Papa Renty." She says he is her great-great-great-grandfather.
If given the photos, Lanier said she would tell "the true story of who Renty was." But she also hopes her case will spark a national discussion over race and history.
"This case is important because it will test the moral climate of this country, and force this country to reckon with its long history of racism," Lanier said at a news conference outside the Harvard Club of New York City.
Crump, her attorney, added that the case could allow Harvard to "remove the stain from its legacy" and show it has the courage "to finally atone for slavery."
Lanier alleges that she wrote to Harvard in 2011 detailing her ties to Renty.
In a letter to Drew Faust, then Harvard's president, Lanier said she wanted to learn more about the images and how they would be used.
She was more explicit in 2017, demanding that Harvard relinquish the photos. In both cases, she said, Harvard responded but evaded her requests.
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Benjamin Crump , Drew Faust
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