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Lawsuit by great-great-great granddaughter of slaves blasts Harvard University for turning a profit on photos of her ancestors

The great-great-great granddaughter of a South Carolina slave, intent on ending the 169-year exploitation of her ancestors, sued Harvard University for using demeaning photos of her family to turn a profit.

Plaintiff Tamara Lanier charged in her Wednesday lawsuit that the 1850 daguerreotypes of family patriarch Papa Renty and his daughter Delia were taken to illustrate a racist theory that blacks were inferior to whites — and then exploited decades later to fill the college coffers.

Despite the pictures’ sordid past, the Ivy League school charged a “hefty fee” for anyone wishing to reproduce the images and used an image of Papa Renty on the cover of a $40 book titled “From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography and the Power of Imagery,” the Massachusetts state court lawsuit alleged.

“For years, Papa Renty’s slave owners profited from his suffering,” said Lanier. “It’s time for Harvard to stop doing the same thing to our family. … Harvard’s refusal to honor our family’s history by acknowledging our lineage and its own shameful past is an insult to Papa Renty’s life and memory.”

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