Harvard faces lawsuit over ‘horrendous’ slave photos – Massachusetts court


BOSTON, June 23 (Reuters) – Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on Thursday that Harvard University could be sued for abusing a descendant of slaves who were forced to be photographed in 1850 for a study of a professor trying to prove black inferiority.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that Harvard’s “horrific and historic role” in creating the images meant it had a duty to respond carefully to Tamara Lanier’s requests for information about them, which she said the university did not.

But the court said the Ivy League school did not need to turn over the photos to Lanier, finding that despite the “glaring” circumstances, the Connecticut woman had no legitimate proprietary interest in them. this.

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The ruling partially reinvigorates a lawsuit she filed in 2019. Lanier and her attorneys, Ben Crump and Josh Koskoff, said in a joint statement that the “historic” decision would allow her to “continue this legal and moral battle for Justice”.

Harvard, based in Cambridge, Mass., said it was reviewing the decision.

The images depict Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, slaves on a South Carolina plantation who were forced to strip naked for photos taken for a racist study by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz.

Judge Scott Kafker wrote that Harvard “cavaliantly” dismissed Lanier’s claims of an ancestral connection and ignored his requests for information about how he used the images, including when the school used Renty’s image on a book cover.

Kafker said Harvard’s conduct meant a jury could reasonably determine that she recklessly caused Lanier emotional distress through her “extreme and outrageous conduct.”

“Harvard’s past complicity in the repugnant actions by which the daguerreotypes were produced informs its current responsibilities to the descendants of individuals coerced into having their half-naked images captured in the daguerreotypes,” he wrote.

Judge Elspeth Cypher, in a concurring opinion, proposed new legal action Lanier could pursue to recover the footage, saying her claims, if proven, “demand full redress and nothing less.”

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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