[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Slavery restitution
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Sep 24 20:37:18 BST 2006
September 22, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Corporate America's Uncashed Check: Disgorging
the Ill-Gotten Gains of Slave Labor
by Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, Bruce I. Afran, and Carl J. Mayer
On September 27th in a federal courthouse in
Chicago an appellate panel will hear argument in
the first case that seeks to hold major American
financial institutions liable for their role in
financing, underwriting and profiting from slavery in the United States.
Many groups have received reparations for past
atrocities and historical injustices, but never African-Americans.
This recent lawsuit marks a new departure in the
battle for reparations. Rather than seek to hold
the government responsible for the general
historic wrongs of slavery, this litigation
targets the companies that specifically profited
– often illegally – from slavery. The plaintiffs
are descendants of slaves upon whom these financial institutions profited.
For years, these companies covered-up their
shameful role in what historians call "the
peculiar institution." As late as March 2004 a
representative of JP Morgan Chase told a Chicago
City Council meeting that it had searched its
archives and could not find a connection to
slavery. By January 2005, the multi-billion
dollar bank admitted on its website that its
predecessor bank used 13,000 slaves as collateral
on loans and actually took possession of 1,200 African-American slaves.
Similarly, Bank of America denied until 2005 that
it had any involvement in America's slave trade.
Through the dogged determination of researchers,
it turns out that Bank of America's predecessor
banks actually facilitated the illegal
importation of up to 41,000 African slaves into
America. (This type of slave trafficking was made
illegal by federal and state statute as early as the eighteenth century.)
Defendant Brown Brothers Harriman built their
merchant bank by lending to southern planters,
brokering slave grown cotton and acting as a
clearinghouse for the South's complex financial
system. It earned commissions arranging cotton
shipments from southern ports to mills in New
England and Britain and loaned millions directly
to planters, merchants and cotton brokers
throughout the South. When those planters or
their banks failed, Brown Brothers used its local
agents to run repossessed plantations that included enslaved Africans.
The movement for corporate restitution is gaining
momentum. Recently an organization called Blacks
in Government – with over a million members –
passed a resolution to hold Aetna corporation
accountable for its role in slavery. Aetna – a
Connecticut-based insurance company --financed
the domestic enslavement of African Americans
through writing insurance policies on slaves with
slave owners as the beneficiaries. The state of
California and the City of Chicago now require
corporations seeking to do government business to
disclose their historic involvement in slavery;
up to nine other states have passed similar resolutions.
The legal principle at stake in this case is
simple and timeless: corporations must be made to
disgorge the profits they unjustly earned on the
backs of brutalized slaves. A similar principle
was at work when banks and corporations who
profited from slave labor used by the Nazi regime
disgorged their ill-gotten gains.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke of a check
marked "insufficient funds" that America owed
blacks. Only days before he died, King said:
"It's all right to tell a man to lift himself up
by his bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to a
bootless man that he should lift himself up by his bootstraps."
Some of America's largest financial powerhouses
financed the cruel institution of slavery,
thereby ensuring that several generations of
African-Americans would remain, in King's words,
"bootless." It is time for corporate America to
pay the first installment on America's uncashed check.
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann is the founder of the
Restitution study group and the lead plaintiff in
Farmer-Paellmann et. al. v. Brown and Williamson.
Bruce I. Afran and Carl J. Mayer are public
interest attorneys working on the litigation. For
more information on the case go to
Reader response: <mailto:Paellmann at rcn.com
<mailto:Paellmann at rcn.com>>Paellmann at rcn.com <mailto:Paellmann at rcn.com>.
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