Unit Four. Week One, 5/23. 400 Souls: Reflecting on a Community History of African America.
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Teach Out Gathering Time
Sunday, May 23. 5:00-7:00pm PST
Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/98440287294
Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294
400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america
we convene in honor of renty taylor
Renty Taylor was born around 1775 in the Congo; his birth name is unknown. he was captured by slave traders and arrived in New Orleans on a Spanish slave ship around 1800. he was eventually sold to the Edgehill plantation at Columbia, South Carolina.
in 1850, Louis Agassiz commissioned a number of daguerreotypes of Taylor and Taylor's daughter Dalia, described as "haunting and voyeuristic." the images were commissioned to prove his assertions about Black inferiority. they are the earliest known photographs of enslaved individuals. Agassiz left the images to Harvard University in his estate. they remained in the Peabody Museum’s attic until 1976 when they were re-discovered by researchers.
in 2019, Taylor's descendants sued Harvard for the return of the images and unspecified damages. the lawsuit is supported by forty-three living descendants of Louis Agassiz who wrote a letter of support stating: "For Harvard to give the daguerreotypes to Ms. [Tamara] Lanier and her family would begin to make amends for its use of the photos as exhibits for the white supremacist theory Agassiz espoused,” and that everyone must evaluate fully "his role in promoting a pseudoscientific justification for white supremacy.”
in 1852, Renty and his daughter's names appeared on a probate inventory of Southern enslaved individuals. we know that he eventually took on the name Renty Taylor sometime after the American Civil War ended in 1865. like many of those enslaved in the American South (and many of their immediate ancestors), it is unknown when he died and it is unknown if he was ever freed, though he disappeared from records around three years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Tamara Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard University over the images of Renty and other enslaved individuals remains ongoing.
we dedicate this week’s gathering and study of The Teach Out to the memory of Renty Taylor, and to all those whose images were dispossessed through the crimes of American slavery. may he, and they, rest in power.