The man in this photo is the patriarch of my family, a man named Renty who was born in Africa and brought to South Carolina as a slave. Renty, or Papa Renty to his family, was an extraordinary man who taught himself and other slaves to read and conducted secret Bible study meetings on the plantation where he was enslaved. I know this because the story of Renty has been passed down through my family for 150 years.
The photograph of Renty was taken in 1850 by a preeminent Harvard professor named Louis Agassiz who was trying to “prove” that black people were inherently inferior in order to justify their enslavement, subjugation, and exploitation. Renty and his daughter, Delia, were forced to strip naked and pose for these dehumanizing photographs.
Today, Harvard uses the images for its own prestige and profit while denying its complicity in Agassiz’s terrible crimes. They also continue to celebrate Agassiz as a great scientist.
Renty has been kept in captivity by Harvard for more than a century, used for Harvard’s benefit while being denied his own identity.
I want to bring him home. I have asked Harvard repeatedly to give the images to my family so that we can restore some of the dignity Agassiz and Harvard took from him. They have refused and demeaned my claim of heritage.
Please sign this petition to join me in demanding that Harvard return the image of Papa Renty to our family. It’s been 169 years, but it’s never too late to do the right thing. #FreeRenty