NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH)– A Norwich woman who is fighting to get intimate photographs of her enslaved ancestors from Harvard is testifying in front of Congress. That testimony – taped Tuesday – is expected to be heard by a congressional subcommittee Wednesday.
“These poignant images commissioned by Harvard are the plunders of slavery,” said Tamara Lanier, who recorded her congressional testimony in her Norwich living room.
Her words will be heard Wednesday by a House subcommittee considering bill H.R. 40, which aims to create a commission to look at the merits of reparations for slavery in the U.S. Lanier says reparations are nothing new.
“Lincoln paid slave holders 300 dollars in reparations for every person freed,” said Lanier.
She submitted her taped testimony along with her Attorney Ben Crump who represents Lanier in her lawsuit against Harvard. She wants daguerreotypes taken of her enslaved ancestors Papa Renty and his daughter Delia be turned over to her family.
“They are the earliest known photographs of Africans enslaved in America that exist in the world,” said Crump in his recorded testimony.
The pictures were commissioned by a Harvard scientist to justify slavery.
“These infamous daguerreotypes, images that pirated the pride and dignity of my enslaved ancestors were used first by Harvard and then by others to promote slavery in the United States,” explained Lanier in her recorded testimony.
The bill of which Lanier is testifying in support was first introduced in 1989 by Rep. John Conyers who has since passed away. In more than 30 years of being submitted it has never gotten out of committee. But she hopes this year will be different.
She believes the social unrest experienced this past summer will help make changes.
“As well as the level of awareness in terms of the social injustices,” said Lanier.
She is inspired by the HEAR Act of 2016 which returned relics and artifacts taken from Holocaust victims.
“The point of our testimony was to say that we want those same protections for relics and cultural property of slavery,” said Lanier.
She is cautiously optimistic this year the congressional bill will become law.