Tamara Lanier began her quest to recover images of her great great great grandfather Renty and his daughter Delia back in 2010. Their pictures were taken by Swiss scientist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz in 1850.
“To further his scientific race theory that blacks were separate and lesser species,” said Lanier.
A theory she says was used to justify slavery. First Lanier had to prove they were her ancestors.
“It’s next to impossible and I credit my mother for her perseverance and her ability to hold on to the minute details that she was told as a child,” said Lanier.
Through old records she says she was able to meet the legal requirements for lineage but says Harvard maintains it owns the nude photos and has profited from them in the past.
She filed a lawsuit against the university last spring.
“We have documented that Delia, when she took the picture, she had tears in her eyes,” said Lanier.
News 8 contacted Harvard and is waiting for a response.
“We can’t begin to learn from our history and heal from our history until we tell the true story,” said Lanier.
She says negotiations continue and even if the lawsuit isn’t successful, she feels her efforts to get the pictures into the public domain will be.
“The dark secret is finally out,” said Lanier.
She is hoping descendants of slaves receive the same rights as descendants of Holocaust victims.
She likens Delia to Adele Bloch-Bauer, The Woman in Gold, whose portrait seized by the Nazis was recovered by her niece.
“I’m like, oh my God, that’s my story,” said Lanier. “The only difference is race.”
She has even gained the support of Agassiz’s descendants. Two of whom went with her to Harvard to deliver their open letter to the university president in June.
“I want these images to be on public display so the world can see the ugliness of what Harvard did to promote and perpetuate slavery,” said Lanier.