/  06.27.2022

After a lower court ruling dismissed a Connecticut woman’s initial complaint, Tamara Lanier is now allowed to sue Harvard University for emotional distress caused by their use of her ancestors’ images, CBS News reports. The historic proceeding took place Thursday (June 23).

According to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Lanier and her family are able to make a legit case over suffering “negligent and indeed reckless infliction of emotional distress” caused by Harvard’s use of the photos of her enslaved ancestors.

The move has been called a “historic win” by Lanier’s lawyers, which include civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Josh Koskoff. It is the first time that the court has ruled that descendants of enslaved people have successfully been able to hold others accountable for what was endured by their family members.

“We are gratified by the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Tamara Lanier’s case against Harvard University for the horrible exploitation of her Black ancestors, as this ruling will give Ms. Lanier her day in court to advocate for the memory of Renty,” said Crump and Koskoff. “It is with great pride that we continue this legal and moral battle for justice against Harvard, as we look to repair the damage and degradation that they have caused Tamara Lanier, her ancestors, and all other people of color exploited by their institution.”

A spokesperson for Harvard said that the university is currently reviewing the decision. She also claims that the original photos are currently housed in archival storage and not on display. “Harvard has and will continue to grapple with its historic connection to slavery and views this inquiry as part of its core academic mission,” said Rachael Dane in a statement. “Harvard also strives to be an ethical steward of the millions of historical objects from around the globe within its museum and library collections.”

The suit, filed in 2019, included a series of photographs dating back to 1850. They included depictions of a South Carolina man identified as Renty Taylor, and his daughter Delia Taylor. Lanier argues that her ancestors had the photos taken against their will. She also believes the school exploited those said images for profit.

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