Massachusetts’ top court questioned whether Harvard University has ownership rights to images a professor commissioned of slaves in 1850 as part of a racist experiment, given the illegal and “horrible circumstances” under which the photographs were taken.

Tamara Lanier, a descendant of the two slaves, Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, sued the university in 2019 asking that the images, called daguerreotypes, be returned to her after discovering their existence while conducting genealogical research, but a lower court dismissed her complaint. The professor, Louis Agassiz, took several slaves from a South Carolina plantation and, against their will, had them stripped and photographed to promote a racist, now debunked theory that Black people were inferior to white people.