WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A 2003 Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance that requires companies doing business with the city of Chicago to disclose whether they had profited from slavery forced JPMorgan Chase & Co. to acknowledge that its roots are linked to the 19th century slave trade and it profited from the free labor of more than 13,000 Africans.
“Recently, JPMorgan Chase completed extensive research examining our company’s history for any links to slavery to meet a commitment to the city of Chicago. Today, we are reporting that this research found that, between 1831 and 1865, two of our predecessor banks—Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana—accepted approximately 13,000 enslaved individuals as collateral on loans and took ownership of approximately 1,250 of them when the plantation owners defaulted on the loans,” the company wrote in statement.
Public records in Louisiana indicate that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank—which eventually became Bank One—merged with JPMorgan Chase in 2004. It provided credit to plantation owners and accepted mortgages from them. Records also indicate that both banks often initiated foreclosure on mortgages and took over the property, which usually included enslaved Blacks.
Chicago City Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman proposed the ordinance.
“It’s [reparations] much more than businesses acknowledging they received profits from slavery. This is about Black labor and White wealth. Wealth was passed down to Whites and poverty was passed down to Blacks,” said Ald. Tillman. “JPMorgan was ordered to disclose any information regarding their ties to the slave trade and, at first, they lied about it. When we found out they lied, we demanded they do a thorough search of their records and apologize,” she explains.
The ordinance, which was passed by the Chicago City Council Finance and Human Relations committees, requires record searches of banks, agriculture industries, railroads, textile manufactures and others. According to Ms. Tillman, the ordinance wasn’t designed to bar companies that have links to slavery from doing business with the city, but was designed to get information for possible reparations lawsuits in the future.
“We want our community to mobilize and organize so we can hold the government and businesses accountable. Financial institutions wouldn’t be anything without the backs of Black people,” she explains. “We are using all of this information to evaluate the impact on the Black community. We are gathering information so we can make a case for reparations in the future.”
JPMorgan Chase apologized to the American public and especially to African Americans in a letter to its employees. They have also agreed to establish a $5 million college scholarship program called “Smart Start Louisiana,” but reparations activists say that is not enough.
“The scholarship fund is an insult,” says Viola Plummer, national co-chair of Million for Reparations. “If they are trying to repair the educational system as they claim, we’re saying rebuild the system from pre-school through college. They need to rebuild the infrastructure and the curriculum. Every student in Louisiana should be able to attend school for free from pre-school to Ph.D.”
According to lawsuits filed on behalf of all slave descendants against other companies, such as financial institution FleetBoston, insurance companies Aetna and New York Life, railroads Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and CSX, tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson, and a textile manufacturer WestPoint Stevens, all have ties to slavery.
Ms. Plummer says the reparations movement will continue to pursue JPMorgan and other companies that have profited from the free labor of enslaved Blacks.
“Reparations are, in fact, owed to those descendants of slaves, but JPMorgan can’t admit to committing a crime against humanity and suggest how they will remedy the crime,” she says. “Ultimately, the federal government must take the responsibility. Corporations absolutely, because they benefited economically, but the government because they benefited form the labor. Reparations are due on our terms.”
The ordinance in Chicago is credited with being the first law that makes companies admit their history in slavery and because of the law’s success, other states, including New York, are considering similar regulations.
“I have legislation in the city calling for disclosure,” explains New York City Council member Bill Perkins (D-N.Y.) “New York has a substantial history of slavery and this legislation will be a giant step to getting the truth out.”
Mr. Perkins says that it’s time for America to hold itself accountable for the wrong they’ve done to the African American community.
“The money will never be enough,” he said. “How do you put a price on the kind of abuse and exploitation that was imposed on slaves and our people?”
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