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Wachovia discloses ties to slavery

Wachovia Corporation

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A growing number of companies will have to disclose their past ties to slavery if they want to do business with government units around the nation.Wachovia is the latest firm to acknowledge its past links to slavery. To do business with the city of Chicago, under the 2003 Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance, it has to disclose whether it had directly or indirectly profited from the 19th century slave trade.

“What this proves is that the ordinance itself is working. It’s very important that we have this information and the ordinance is real,” said Chicago City Councilmember Dorothy Tillman, author of the ordinance. “We are not playing and any company that thinks we’re playing should understand that we mean business. Now we have to meet and see what we are going to do as a people as these companies unfold and we pass along information. How do we really build and pull together our own team?”

Other cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit have passed similar legislation while New York, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Richmond are considering passing the law.

According to City Council Deputy Majority Leader Bill Perkins, who introduced the bill in New York, “This is about truth, enlightenment and accountability.”Tillman, who spearheaded the efforts in Chicago, said it was not submitted to ban companies that have links to slavery from doing business with the city. However, some information may end up as part of reparations suits.

One of those lawsuits has already been filed in San Francisco Superior Court. The plaintiffs in the $1.4 trillion suit are descendants of Andrew Jackson Hurdle, who lived as a slave. The defendants are from the insurance, finance, textile, tobacco, and transportation industries. They include FleetBoston Financial Corporation, Aetna Inc., Lloyd’s of London, New York Life Insurance Company, Westpoint Stevens, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation, Loews Corporation, and Canadian National Railway Company. According to the lawsuit, $1.4 trillion is fair restitution for the price of labor.

Wachovia is not the first bank this year to admit its link to slavery. In January, JPMorgan Chase & Co. acknowledged that its roots are linked to slavery and, in fact, the company benefited from the free labor of more than 13,000 Africans in Louisiana. Like Wachovia, JPMorgan Chase and Co. did not disclose this information voluntarily.

Reparations advocates are pleased that Wachovia made the disclosure, but are pressuring the company to go one step further and make a financial commitment towards reparations. For them, an announcement on their website and a letter of apology from their president is no comparison to the years of free labor they profited from.

“Reparations mean to repair the damage and we believe we have to rebuild these communities,” Tillman says. “Certainly, these companies cannot dictate how these communities are going to be rebuilt and put a few pennies in. Of course we don’t knock Wachovia and JPMorgan because they did give some pennies.”After their announcement, JPMorgan Chase agreed to establish a $5 million college scholarship program called Smart Louisiana. Wachovia did not return repeated telephone phone calls from the NNPA News Service.

According to a statement by Wachovia, “Through specific transactional records, the research company determined that the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company owned at least 162 slaves and the Bank of Charleston accepted at least 529 slaves as collateral on mortgaged properties or loans and subsequently acquired an undetermined number of these individuals when customers defaulted on their loans.”

The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company was founded in 1833 to complete a railroad line between Augusta and other parts of the state. The company relied on slave labor for the construction and maintenance of the railroad. The Bank of Charleston was founded in 1834. The company issued loans and mortgages and used salves as collateral.

“On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent,” said Wachovia Chairman and CEO Ken Thompson in a statement. “We know that we cannot change the past, and we can’t make up for the wrongs of slavery…but we can learn from our past and begin a stronger dialogue about slavery and the experience of African-Americans in our country…”

Although Wachovia cannot change the past, many feel they can give more than words. Conrad Worrill, co-chair of Millions for Reparations, says: “This is not a victory. This is a tiny step in a big, big pond. As a matter fact, it’s a tiny step in a big ocean. What would make a victory for the reparations movement is when we win complete reparations. The victories have to come in larger pieces. This is just a little piece of the puzzle. It’s an important step, but it’s not a victory.”

Worrill, chairman of the National Black United Fund, believes there are several things Wachovia can do.

“We don’t want to be appeased. All these companies are skating around their responsibility—but one by one they will be exposed. There are a number of strategies that Wachovia could partake themselves in as a part of this revelation and the demands of the reparations movement—humanitarian, commerce, business, housing, community building, building institutions, partnerships, etc.”


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