In 1850 Harvard University commissioned daguerreotypes of seven enslaved people — Delia, Renty, Jem, Alfred, Fassena, Drana, and Jack — as part of its effort to popularize the racist theory of polygenesis. Today the same university retains possession of the photographs but now reframes them as evidence of a liberal idea of shared humanity. This article argues that such reframings are a form of harm made possible by Harvard's proprietary and discursive capture of the photographs, which is currently being contested in a reparations lawsuit brought by Tamara Lanier, a descendent of Renty and Delia. Focusing on this lawsuit and its historical precedents, this article claims that the spectral forms of Renty and Delia recur in Harvard's institutional mediascape not only because they are routinely instrumentalized by the university but also because the ongoing harms of slavery and anti‐Blackness have not yet been acknowledged, much less repaired, within or beyond the US legal system.

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