Supreme Court Rules Woman Can Sue Harvard University For Using Photos Of Enslaved Ancestors

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has secured a history-making win on behalf of Tamara Lanier, whose legal case against Harvard University made it all the way up to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The situation is related to “daguerreotypes,” photos from antebellum 1800’s, that Harvard took of Congo “Papa” Renty and his daughter, Delia Taylor — Lanier’s ancestors.

A Harvard professor photographed Renty and Taylor, who were enslaved, in order to “prove the inferiority of Black people,” according to a news release from Ben Crump Law.

Additionally, even after Lanier informed Harvard of her familial ties to them, the Ivy League institution continued to use and profit from the offensive photos without informing her.

Crump made his case in front of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in November 2021, and the ruling has now come back in his and Lanier’s favor.

Justice Scott Kafker wrote that Harvard had “cavalierly” dismissed Lanier’s ancestral ties and engaged in “extreme and outrageous conduct” regarding the photos.

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

This ruling opens the door for Harvard to be sued for emotional distress over the photos, AP News reports.

“As a free Black man, I am honored to have been at the forefront of this fight against the lasting remnants of slavery and the very institutions that benefited from the exploitation of Black ancestors,” Crump said in response to the good news.

“The high court recognized ‘Harvard’s complicity in the horrific actions surrounding the creation of the daguerreotypes,’ which were created to prove the inferiority of Black people, treating these enslaved people like lab rats,” he added.

Crump went on to also praise Lanier for her determination in the matter.

“Tamara Lanier carefully traced her lineage and then heroically stood up to defend her ancestors and the abuse they endured. It is an honor to have been in Tamara’s corner throughout this battle against Harvard and their egregious actions against her family, and I look forward to standing beside Tamara when we prove her case to a jury,” he said.

Harvard is currently reviewing the court’s decision, and it sounds like Crump and Lanier are prepping to sue the institution.