Archive for April, 2019

Video: “Frederick Douglass and the Role of a Wife in His Commemoration” (Prof. Leigh Fought)

Paper presented by Leigh Fought, Professor of History at Le Moyne College and author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, at the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery Annual Meeting, Rochester, NY, 9 April 2019.

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Professor David Blight, Prof. Bernier, and Dr. Walter and Linda Evans invited to join “Walking Tour of Frederick Douglass’ Old Anacostia” on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at 11:45 AM

John Muller _ walking tour (3)This weekend Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Blight, Dr. Celeste-Marie Bernier, co-author of If I Survive, and Dr. Walter O. Evans and his wife Linda Evans, collectors and owners of the Frederick Douglass family scrapbook collection that was the genesis of Blight and Bernier’s books, will be in Washington City.

Therefore, after concluding my third walking tour of Old Anacostia with the Smithsonian Associates on Sunday, April 29, 2019 in the morning I will be leading an independent walking tour of Old Anacostia starting at 11:45 AM in which these luminaries are cordially invited.

Professor Blight, in a series of talks across the county, has frequently mentioned that the last third of Douglass’ life has been overlooked. Although he cites Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C: The Lion of Anacostia (The History Press, 2012) in his book 8 times he has yet to demonstrate any scholastic self-respect for the study of Dr. Douglass and mention my book.

I look forward to having these distinguished guests visit a scared community of Washington City that was integral to Frederick Douglass and his family for more than a quarter-century.

It is my understanding Prof. Bernier and the University of Edinburgh has been conducting walking tours of the Scottish city of Edinburgh so therefore it is more than appropriate and necessary that Old Anacostia is afforded the same scholastic respect and recognition as an indigenous and historic Douglassonian community.

We look forward to reporting back next week.

Editor’s Note:

Professor Leigh Fought completed the walking tour a couple years back whereas her husband Douglas Egerton turned back due to apparent uncomfort with the temperatures.

There is an open invitation to Eric and Harriet Lowery and the entire Frederick Douglass Honor Society of Easton, Maryland, Director Chanel Compton of the Banneker-Douglass Museum and many other individuals and institutions which are in the line of business of Frederick Douglass to visit the neighborhood of Old Anacostia and learn about the community in which Dr. Douglass was an active and engaged citizen.

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“Who Should Own Photos of Slaves? The Descendants, not Harvard, a Lawsuit Says.” (New York Times, March 20, 2019)

Tamara Lanier is suing Harvard University for ownership of daguerreotypes of slaves who she says are her ancestors.

Tamara Lanier is suing Harvard University for ownership of daguerreotypes of slaves who she says are her ancestors. Karsten Moran for The New York Times.

NORWICH, Conn. — The two slaves, a father and daughter, were stripped to the waist and positioned for frontal and side views. Then, like subjects in contemporary mug shots, their pictures were taken, as part of a racist study arguing that black people were an inferior race.

Almost 170 years later, they are at the center of a dispute over who should own the fruits of American slavery.

The images of the father and daughter, identified by their first names, Renty and Delia, were commissioned by a professor at Harvard and are now stored in a museum on campus as precious cultural artifacts.

But to the Lanier family, they are records of a personal family history. “These were our bedtime stories,” Shonrael Lanier said.

On Wednesday, Ms. Lanier’s mother, Tamara, 54, filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts saying that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, and that the valuable photographs are rightfully hers. The case renews focus on the role that the country’s oldest universities played in slavery, and comes amid a growing debate over whether the descendants of enslaved people are entitled to reparations — and what those reparations might look like.

“It is unprecedented in terms of legal theory and reclaiming property that was wrongfully taken,” Benjamin Crump, one of Ms. Lanier’s lawyers, said. “Renty’s descendants may be the first descendants of slave ancestors to be able to get their property rights.”

Jonathan Swain, a spokesman for Harvard, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Universities in recent years have acknowledged and expressed contrition for their ties to slavery. Harvard Law School abandoned an 80-year-old shield based on the crest of a slaveholding family that helped endow the institution. Georgetown University decided to give an advantage in admissions to descendants of enslaved people who were sold to fund the school.

A program for a 2017 conference at Harvard on the links between academia and slavery. The program bears the image of Renty, a slave from whom Ms. Lanier says she descended. Karsten Moran for The New York Times.

A series of federal laws has also compelled museums to repatriate human remains and sacred objects to Native American tribes.

The lawsuit says the images are the “spoils of theft,” because as slaves Renty and Delia were unable to give consent. It says that the university is illegally profiting from the images by using them for “advertising and commercial purposes,” such as by using Renty’s image on the cover of a $40 anthropology book. And it argues that by holding on to the images, Harvard has perpetuated the hallmarks of slavery that prevented African-Americans from holding, conveying or inheriting personal property.

“I keep thinking, tongue in cheek a little bit, this has been 169 years a slave, and Harvard still won’t free Papa Renty,” said Mr. Crump, who in 2012 represented the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager killed by a community watch member in Florida. Ms. Lanier is also represented by Josh Koskoff, a lawyer who represents families of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre victims.

Renty and Delia were among seven slaves who appeared in 15 images made using the daguerreotype process, an early form of photography imprinted on silvered copper plates.

The pictures are haunting and voyeuristic, with the subjects staring at the camera with detached expressions.

The daguerreotypes were commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-born zoologist and Harvard professor who is sometimes called the father of American natural science. They were taken in 1850 by J.T. Zealy, in a studio in Columbia, S.C.

Agassiz, a rival of Charles Darwin, subscribed to polygenesis, the theory that black and white people descended from different origins. The theory, later discredited, was used to promote the racist idea that black people were inferior to whites. Agassiz viewed the slaves as anatomical specimens to document his beliefs, according to historical sources.

The daguerreotypes were forgotten until they were discovered in an unused storage cabinet in the attic of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1976. They were thought to be the earliest known photographs of American slaves.

Notes found with the images give small clues as to the identity of the slaves — their names, plantations and tribes. Renty was born in Congo, according to the label on his daguerreotype.

An inventory from 1834 listing the slaves on the plantation of Col. Thomas Taylor in Columbia, S.C. The names Big Renty and Renty appear on the list. Karsten Moran for The New York Times.

In 2017, Ms. Lanier and her daughter attended a conference at Harvard on the links between academia and slavery that included speakers such as Drew Faust, Harvard’s president at the time, and the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. They said they were offended to see the speakers positioned under a huge projection of Renty’s face.

Mr. Coates, the author of a widely discussed article making the case for reparations, said in an interview that while he deeply respected the scholars at the conference, he sympathized with Ms. Lanier’s cause.

“That photograph is like a hostage photograph,” Mr. Coates said of Renty’s image. “This is an enslaved black man with no choice being forced to participate in white supremacist propaganda — that’s what that photograph was taken for.”

He said he understood how Ms. Lanier felt seeing it at the conference. “I get why it would bother her,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of all that at the time.”

Interviewed at her home in Norwich, Ms. Lanier, a retired chief probation officer for the State of Connecticut, said she had not heard of the photos until about 2010, when she began tracing her genealogy for a family project.

Her mother, Mattye Pearl Thompson-Lanier, who died that year, had passed down a strong oral tradition of their family’s lineage from an African ancestor called “Papa Renty.” Shonrael, Ms. Lanier’s daughter, wrote a fifth-grade project about her ancestor in 1996.

The lawsuit could hinge on evidence of that chain of ancestry. Ms. Lanier’s amateur sleuthing led to death records, census records and a handwritten inventory from 1834 of the slaves on the plantation of Col. Thomas Taylor in Columbia and their dollar values.

The slave inventory lists a Big Renty and a Renty, and listed under the latter is Delia. Ms. Lanier believes that Big Renty is her “Papa Renty” and the father of Renty and Delia, and has traced them to her mother, who was born to sharecroppers in Montgomery, Ala.

Her genealogical research has its skeptics. Gregg Hecimovich, who is contributing to a book about the slave daguerreotypes, to be published by the Peabody next year, said it was important to note that the slave inventory has the heading “To Wit, in Families.” Big Renty and Renty are at the top of separate groupings, he said, implying that they are the heads of separate families.

The image of Renty was one of several daguerreotypes commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor who believed that black people and white people descended from different origins. J.T. Zealy, via the Peabody Museum, Harvard University

“I’d be very excited to work with Tamara,” said Dr. Hecimovich, who is chairman of the English department at Furman University. “But the bigger issue is it would be very hard to make a slam-dunk case that she believes she has.”

Molly Rogers, the author of a previous book about the images called “Delia’s Tears,” said that tracing families under slavery was extremely complex. “It’s not necessarily by blood,” she said. “It could be people who take responsibility for each other. Terms, names, family relationships are very much complicated by the fact of slavery.”

One intellectual property lawyer, Rick Kurnit, said he thought Ms. Lanier would have a hard time claiming ownership of the daguerreotypes. He said the famous photograph “V-J Day in Times Square,” for instance, belonged to the photographer and not to the sailor or the nurse who are kissing. But that image, of course, was taken in a public space.

Yxta Maya Murray, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, said that images taken by force were tantamount to robbery. “If she’s a descendant, then I would stand for her,” Professor Murray said of Ms. Lanier.

One argument for keeping the daguerreotypes in a museum is that they are fragile physical objects, which degrade when exposed to light, said Robin Bernstein, a professor of cultural history at Harvard who has studied them.

She declined to take a position in the legal dispute, but said that the images were safe at the Peabody. “Frankly, there are other repositories to keep them safe,” she said. “What I do know is that no ordinary individual such as myself could keep them safe in a home.”

The question remains what Ms. Lanier would do with the images of Renty and Delia if she were to win her case in court.

Ms. Lanier, who is asking for a jury trial and unspecified punitive and emotional damages, says she does not know, and would have to have a family meeting about it. She does not rule out licensing the images.

Mr. Crump, her lawyer, had another idea. The daguerreotypes, he said, should be taken on a tour of America, so that everyone can see them.

Doris Burke contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Taking On Harvard Over Rights to Slave Photos. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Video: How Frederick Douglass Used Photography to Talk About Race (WGBH Forum, 2016)

Frederick Douglass was in love with photography. From his earliest known photograph in 1841 until his passing in 1895, he sat for his portrait whenever he could and became the most photographed American of the nineteenth century; more photographed than President Abraham Lincoln. In this first major exhibition of Douglass photographs, we offer a visually stunning re-introduction to America’s first black celebrity — immediately recognizable in his own lifetime by millions.

Scholars John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd are the co-curators of the exhibit [Picturing Frederick Douglass] (, based upon their acclaimed book about the famed abolitionist’s photographs. They join Dr. Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, to discuss the impact of the wide distribution of images of Douglass.

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Video: Frederick Douglass & Wye House at the University of Maryland Hornbake Library (2016)

A nine-year archaeological dig at the site of a plantation where abolitionist Frederick Douglass once lived culminated in an exhibit at the University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library.

The exhibit showcases artifacts that shed light on the life and culture of Wye House, a former plantation near Easton, Maryland where Douglass spent two years as an enslaved child. Professor Mark Leone of the university’s Department of Anthropology co-curated the exhibit with his current and former graduate students

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4-part series … Frederick Douglass Walking Tour in Dublin, Ireland. (Professor Christine Kinealy, author of “Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words”)

Frederick Douglass Walking Tour in Dublin for Culture Night 2018 with Professor Christine Kinealy, author of Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words (Routledge: 2018), Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, and Don Mulla.


Frederick Douglass Walking Tour in Dublin for Culture Night 2018 with Professor Christine Kinealy, author of Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words (Routledge: 2018), Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, with award winning singer song-writer Declan O’Rourke (Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine)

Frederick Douglass Walking Tour in Dublin for Culture Night 2018 with Professor Christine Kinealy, author of Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words (Routledge: 2018), Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, with Kwaku Fortune as Frederick Douglass


Walking Tour in Dublin for 200th Anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s Birth. Christine Kinealy, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University. Caroilin Callery as Hannah Webb. Kwaku Fortune as Frederick Douglass. St. Mark’s Church, Pearse Street, Dublin. Culture Night 2018.


YouTube of Jason King


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Photos of Frederick Douglass mural walking tour of Old Anacostia

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to guide students from the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California enrolled in a selective social justice program visiting the nation’s capital on a walking tour of Old Anacostia.

Organized by Envoys, an international organization that works with innovative schools and teachers to expand the boundaries of possibility for global education programming, an intellectually curious and well-informed group of young men and women rendezvoused at the Anacostia Metro station. We then proceeded to review a number of murals before entering the boundaries of the Historic Anacostia replete with a variety of Frederick Douglass-themed murals.

Special thanks to the students and teachers of the Head-Royce School, Envoys program leaders and local community leaders within Anacostia who took time to offer their welcome and hospitality.

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Students examine an 1880 letter Frederick Douglass wrote in support of his friend Henry Griswold, a local real estate developer in Old Anacostia.

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Students view mural of Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln around the corner from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.


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Students from Oakland, California and their chaperones stand outside a mural of Frederick Douglass in Old Anacostia outside of D.C. Market.

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Following the tour students shared a meal and discussion at the new Busboys and Poets around the corner from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

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Herald-Mail Media, “Muller to speak at Antietam Battlefield” (Sat., April 27, 2019 @ 11:30 AM & 2:00 PM -> Newcomer House)

Muller to speak at Antietam BattlefieldJohn Muller

John Muller, author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia,” will present on the topic of Frederick Douglass’s little-known history in Western Maryland at 11:30 a.m. and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at the Newcomer House on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg. Muller’s discussion will kick off The Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area’s 2019 Newcomer House Porch Program Series.

Muller to speak at Antietam Battlefield,” April 19, 2019. Herald-Mail Media

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Public Lecture: “Strike for Freedom: Slavery, Civil War & the Frederick Douglass Family in the Walter O. & Linda Evans Collection” @ Taylor House Office Building in Annapolis (April 25, 2019 @ 2:00 PM)

No photo description available.

Strike for Freedom: Slavery, Civil War & the Frederick Douglass Family in the Walter O. & Linda Evans Collection

Thursday, April 25, 2019 — 2:00pm – 3:30pm
Dr. Celeste-Marie Bernier

Taylor House Office Building

6 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401 

email or call Maya Davis with questions or 410-260-6487

Maryland State Archives on Facebook

In the Library: Frederick Douglass Family Materials from the Walter O. Evans Collection opens at the National Gallery of Art in downtown Washington, D.C. April 22, 2019

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Video: Pulitzer Prize Winner David W. Blight Talks About Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

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