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A lawyer says Harvard University has the opportunity to "remove the stain from its inheritance" by honoring a Connecticut woman's request to turn pictures of two South Carolina slaves as she says are her ancestors. (March 20)
AP, AP

Tamara Lanier looked at the picture for the first time and ended a face to the man she knew as "Papa Renty."

For years she heard the stories that her late mother told about their slave ancestor. Lanier promised that someday she would write them down and create a family tree.

And here he was – gray-haired and harsh and defiantly staring straight ahead in a photo known as a daguerreotype.

"It was almost like we made eye contact," Lanier said. "It was an immediate sense of kinship."

Lanier describes Renty, born in Africa and a slave in South Carolina, who "greater than life" – someone respected in his community who taught other slaves to read despite laws against it and was proud of his African roots.

This copy of July 17, 2018 shows an 1850 Daguerreotype of Renty, a South Carolina slave, whom Tamara Lanier said is her family's patriarch. Portrait was commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, whose ideas were used to support the slavery of Africans in the United States. (Photo: John Shishmanian, AP)

The images of Renty and his daughter Delia, necked in March 1850 against their will for a professor in Harvard University, are now the subject of a lawsuit that Lanier, 54 , Filed with Harvard this week.

Lanier, a native of Connecticut, who says she is Renty's great grandson, has accused Harvard of the erroneous seizure of the photos that benefit them and fails to admit she is Renty's direct descendant. She wants a court to order the pictures for her family as well as unspecified monetary damage.

More: Harvard University sovereign over allegedly taking advantage of what is believed to be the earliest images of American slaves

The images were commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a 1900 -year-old Harvard biologist who had daguerreotypes of 13 slaves taken to strengthen his racist belief that white people are superior to African Americans.

Images believed to be the earliest of American slaves are still owned by Harvard.

Lanier first found them on the internet in 2011. She had been warned by a friend, an ancestral hobbyist, and owner of an ice cream shop that she was talking to at the store. She spent the next few years dragging on the expertise of professional genealogies, including one tracked by Barack and Michele Obama.

Lanier believes her long research has validated what her mother said for years, but what Harvard won't acknowledge – Renty is her part of her family.

"I've talked to people all over the state, across the country, all over the world, and everyone is just seemingly surprised at this discovery," Lanier said. "All but Harvard."

Harvard has not commented on the trial.

Here Lanier says she knows "Papa Renty." It is a combination of oral history from her family and information she says is documented by records.

Lived on a plantation in Columbia, South Carolina

Renty, whom Lanier said was about 65, when the Agassiz images were taken, lived on a cotton plantation in Columbia, South Carolina, owned by Benjamin Franklin Taylor. 19659005] Here the studio was located where Renty, Delia and others were photographed by a man named JT Zealy.

Although Lanier said she did not confirm details of her arrival in America, she believes Renty first entered New Orleans from Africa at the end of 1700 & # 39; in a Spanish slave trade ship. He would have been around 15. She thinks he later came to South Carolina through the slave market.

She said Renty was bought in the early 1800's by colleague Thomas Taylor, father of Benjamin Taylor, whose family owned much of the country where Columbia, South Carolina was built. "Papa Renty" took the name of Renty Taylor after the Civil War. It is unknown when he died.

& # 39; The Black African & # 39;

Lanier said Renty was called "The Black African" when he lived because he was born in Africa, Congo.

It was rare for American slaves in the mid-19th century to be born in Africa as opposed to the United States, she said.

"Therefore, I think they called him" The Black African ", she said. "And I also believe that he kept so much of his (African) culture that he would not adhere to the kind of traditional indoctrines they subjected to African American slaves."

A reader, despite anti-reading laws

Lanier said her mother told her that Renty learned to read and teach others to read with a book called "Blue-backed Webster", also known as and "Blue-backed Speller".

She said the book remained in her family for years, even longer.

Reading would have been risky, even dangerous, for slaves because of anti-literacy laws in South Carolina and other slavery states.

Renty also read from the Bible, Lanier said. She said her mother told her that Renty and others would "worship in secret" among slaves only after they came out of church services with their white owners. She said they wanted to "worship as they were happy."

Lanier described Renty as leader of the slave community, which was respected. "He was just this bigger than life person," she said, though he was short and thin physically as shown in Agassiz photos.

Five Generations of Rentys

Lanier said that five generations of her family have been named Renty, starting with Renty, who came from Congo and lived on the Taylor Plantation in South Carolina.

They were all either Renty Taylor or later Renty Thompson, she said.

Her mother, Mattye Thompson Lanier, died in 2010.

She said that third-generation Renty migrated to Montgomery, Alabama to be owned by Benjamin Franklin Taylor. Lanier's mother, who settled in Alabama, participated in a summer exchange problem where she traveled to the Northeast. It was like the family ended up in Connecticut.

Descendants slaves meet descendant slaveowner

Lanier said in 2015 that she met Dr. Edmund Taylor, the great granddaughter Benjamin Taylor for lunch in Columbia, South Carolina. He was 98 years old and died two years later.

She said they were sitting at a table carved by a slave from the old Taylor plantation – perhaps by one of her own ancestors. They ate from Taylor's dishes.

"It was surreal for many reasons," Lanier said. "But most specifically, when Dr. Taylor talked about Benjamin Franklin Taylor and his family history, I felt I heard confirmation and validation of everything my mother had told me from Renty's perspective."

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