Skip to comments.Built with bondage (Mega reparations barf alert)
Posted on 06/26/2005 8:25:20 AM PDT by Lee'sGhost
The high-profile disclosure of Wachovia's historic ties to slavery and the public apology recently offered by its chairman provide a graphic example of the ongoing campaign to force America to confront its racial misdeeds.
Driven by the growing number of states and cities that require companies doing business with them to disclose whether they or their predecessors profited directly or indirectly from slavery, Wachovia's admission that banks it acquired in Georgia and South Carolina either owned slaves or accepted them for collateral raises a crucial question:
Do modern-day American businesses have a duty-bound debt to the descendants of black slaves who helped build this nation?
This question rings with heavy resonance in North Carolina and the rest of the old Confederacy: On the eve of the Civil War, most of the nation's 3.95 million slaves lived in the South, U.S. Census figures show.
From Colonial times until the end of the Civil War, the profits of Southern cotton plantations, railroads, brickyards and pottery-makers were fattened with slave muscle. Also profiting were Southern banks, including two Wachovia predecessors: the Georgia Railroad and Banking Co., formed in 1833 to build a rail line between Augusta and Atlanta that relied on slave labor, and the Bank of Charleston, where slaves were used as loan collateral. At least three Charleston board members, including the bank's first president, were slave owners.
Some see the question of corporate accountability for historic ties to slavery as a crucial segment of a larger quest reparations for the descendants of slaves and a resumed national dialogue about slavery, segregation and the legacy of social problems rooted therein.
"There's a tradition in the United States of ignoring the past and not feeling accountable for anything done in the past if it wasn't done by you as an individual," said Bill Fletcher Jr., president of Trans-Africa Forum, a Washington-based nonprofit that researches the effect of U.S. policy on Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. "What reparations say is that the conditions we're living under today are the consequences of decisions and actions taken many years ago, the consequences of which have not been addressed."
Others see corporate mea culpas -- by Wachovia and others -- in the harsher light of craven self-interest. They say corporations are looking to hook fat government contracts and enhance their images while politicians and interest groups are using the stain of slavery as a shakedown tool.
"It's nothing more than a sham and a charade," said Mychal Massie, a columnist and Internet radio talk-show host associated with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. "It's as morally opprobrious as slavery. The difference is, slavery was legal."
Such thunderous contempt obscures the more measured criticism of others who worry that the push for reparations and corporate responsibility will spawn a backlash against blacks. They also fear a potential grab for money that could short-circuit the more expensive and politically difficult need to address the full range of problems plaguing black Americans today. Those problems include illiteracy and illegitimacy, higher health and crime risks, as well as lower test scores and economic opportunities.
"All of those problems are devastating problems, but they're not civil rights problems," said Walter Williams, a conservative columnist and former chairman of the economics department at George Mason University. "I don't believe corporations are responsible for any current-day problems. They can make charitable donations to any cause they choose and do so, but I don't see them responsible for solving a great deal of the problems facing the black community."
Even academics who believe the twin oppressions of slavery and segregation are at the root of many of the problems facing blacks today worry about the repercussions of the push for reparations and accountability.
"There's a political problem here," said Glenn Loury, a Boston University economics professor who ran its now-defunct Institute of Race and Social Division. "This is like a shortcut to getting the country to do the right thing. The really correct thing for the United States to do is devote resources to eradicate the impact of the long shadow of slavery and Jim Crow. Unless we do something about those problems, the other actions don't mean very much."
When it comes to reparations and corporate accountability, he says, there's a key problem: All of Colonial and antebellum America -- not just the Southern cotton planter or railroad baron -- was economically entangled in slavery. That makes the cost of compensation for slavery enormous. Economists peg it at between $1.4 trillion and $10 trillion.
"Once you start asking the question of who's got dirty hands in the slave trade, where does the question end?" Loury said. "The whole economy in the mid-19th century was deeply enmeshed in the commerce in human chattel. This is a sixth-degree of separation sort of thing. How many steps will it take to connect the average resident of Boston to the slave trade? I'd argue it doesn't take much."
That point is illustrated in the exhaustive study that Wachovia commissioned to trace its corporate roots. The research was required under a Chicago ordinance because Wachovia was seeking to provide financing for a public housing project that will garner the nation's fourth-largest bank an estimated $20 million in federal tax credits. Although Wachovia's most overt examples of slave ties are the Georgia and South Carolina banks it now owns, the study also showed that nine of its other predecessors also profited from the slave trade. Those include the Farmers & Mechanics Bank of Philadelphia, the Bank of Baltimore and the Philadelphia Bank, which later became the Philadelphia National Bank.
The study, by The History Factory of Chantilly, Va., showed that these banks profited in a variety of ways, including having founders, directors or customers who owned slaves; doing business with slave owners; and by investing in bonds issued by slave states, cities and the U.S. government, which permitted slavery and profited from it via taxes.
Seven researchers spent roughly 1,800 hours poring through old accounting ledgers and other records, said Wachovia's Scott Silvestri, who would not disclose the study's cost.
"We've got a diverse work force, and we're in 15 states, so we decided to take this very seriously," he said. "We don't just want to do a cursory review and just come up with one or two findings. ... It's something more and more cities are requiring. So, in that sense, other companies will have to do the same thing."
The Chicago ordinance that requires a review of corporate history to unearth ties to slavery does not mandate compensation for such ties. Nor does a similar bill introduced into North Carolina's General Assembly this year. That bill is bottled up in committee.
But the lack of a mandate doesn't mean there isn't an explicit expectation of some sort of quid pro quo. Wachovia has been talking about partnering with community groups that preserve and teach black history, Silvestri said.
In Louisiana, J.P. Morgan Chase, the nation's second-largest bank, has pledged to set up a $5 million scholarship fund to make amends for a predecessor in that state that received thousands of slaves as collateral before the Civil War. J.P. Morgan also disclosed its ties to slavery in a filing with the city of Chicago and publicly apologized.
When Aetna Insurance's historic ties to slavery were disclosed in 2002, the company quickly said it had invested $36 million in the black community in the past 20 years, targeting minority-owned business initiatives, community partnerships, economic development and other areas.
Columnist Williams condemns the actions of Wachovia and J.P. Morgan as corporate cowardice.
"A lot of CEOs want to maintain peace and do business with a city, and they're cowards," he said. "If I were a CEO, I'd say, 'OK, we'll just not do business.' It's a hustle. ... There's no victims of slavery alive today, and there are no perpetrators of slavery alive today. It's a way of getting money."
William Ferris, associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, sees a connection between the debate about reparations and corporate accountability and the manslaughter conviction last week in Mississippi of a former Ku Klux Klan leader for masterminding the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers. All, he said, are attempts to come to grips with the historic wrongs of slavery and segregation.
"Race is the Achilles' heel of both our region and our nation," Ferris said. "We've got to come to terms with race and our history if we're going to move forward."
The national need to address this historic injustice makes it worth the risk of having corporate accountability and reparations get bogged down in symbolic gestures and the hustle for money, said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"Symbolism is important, and we should never say it isn't," Guillory said. "Even public relations is important. In apologizing for ties to slavery, it doesn't bother me that a bank is doing this because they want more black customers. People always act from some combination of self interest and some broader sense of societal purpose."
TransAfrica's Fletcher agrees.
"It's better to have the imperfect dialogue than none at all," he said. "It's important to have open disclosure because it's very important to understand that we're standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and sometimes they did very naughty things."
Staff writer Jim Nesbitt can be reached at 829-8955 or at email@example.com. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.
© Copyright 2005, The News & Observer Publishing Company, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Company
An NC ping, if you please.
Those that have investments in Wachovia now have to consider if those assets are at risk because of Wachovia's admission.
bump to read later
The debt has been repaid. The blacks were freed at the cost of blood and lives of 100,000s of men, mostly all white.
The debt has been repaid thru education grants, minority grants, welfare and other plantation programs.
The debt is not owed because I am not a descendant of anyone in America at the time and I own noone. No illegal or legal immigrant post 1860 were slave owners. And, let us not forget, there is Liberia, the new black African paradise.
I'd say something smart a* like, I can't reply because I am busy figuring out how to repay for sins I didn't commit - but instead I'll comment that there are some who would be not be satisfied until we have a Mugabe here who would seize every white-owned property and turn it over.
Come to think of it, the Kelo v New London SCOTUS ruling may provide ammo to some industrious leftist infatuated with Mugabe who can convince your city or county fathers that a greater public good is served by you turning over your 40 acres to another group.
This question raises a crucial answer: No.
Let's see, in order for them to get shipped here they first had to be captured by their own people, If they want free land so bad let them go back to Africa and reclaim land there. Oh wait, they can't, they would be shot, again by their own people.
Which group representing slave descendants do I petition for reparations for the death of my great-great grandfather who was a Union Army conscript that died in a Confederate prison camp. My family never owned slaves. They were just a bunch of immigrant miners and dirt farmers.
Robert Johnson (BET) is a billionaire. He's probably feeling a little ashamed of all the money he's stolen from European-Americans. He must owe my family something. Or Oprah. She be rich. How about Magic Johnson? Will Smith. Chris Rock. Snoop. Fitty Cent. Aight then. Don't be axing me bout no mo damn reparations.
Correct. And if I were a stockholder, I would raise holy hell at the next shareholders meeting. The board that rolled over for these shakedown hucksters would be out on its butt. And I would pull every dime I had out of that company and its banks.
This kind of cowardice should be punished surely and swiftly.
". . .the Kelo v New London SCOTUS ruling may provide ammo to some industrious leftist infatuated with Mugabe who can convince your city or county fathers that a greater public good is served by you turning over your 40 acres to another group."
They can have my mule when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
Some form of reparations from slave owners may have been a good idea c. 1865, but broaching it today is complete silliness.
One could make a very good case that the death of around 1,000,000 white Americans and the tremendous destruction of Southern properties during the Civil War was a reparation paid in blood.
I'd love to hear Jessie Jackson answer to why a white American with roots to a 1910 immigrant, should pay reparations to a "black" American with predominantly Carribean immigrant roots, for something that happened here before 1865.
Today, we have computers. With them, we can reconstruct a history of those who benefited and enabled, and those who lost through a system of slavery, which is now known to have been immoral and inexcusable. With those reconstructions, let us assess those who benefited, and from their excess profits, lets compensate those who suffered from the economic effects of their slavery.
But we also need to address other forms of oppression, totally immoral and currently illegal - race discrimination, sexual discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, cultural discrimination, class discrimination, religious discrimination, facial feature discrimination, height discrimination, weight discrimination, age discrimination, sense of humor discrimination, aggressive-passive discrimination, good-fellowness discrimination, chance or accident of birth discrimination, luck discrimination, etc.
It is essential that every aspect of one's inherited profit or loss be computed on some giant electronic computer, and their current morally correct equivalent economic position be determined, then fair compensation to be adjudicated for award to the "losers" by the "winners" in the unfair competition saddled on them by the past.
Egad! It is about time!
Since the majority of black slaves to the Northern Hemisphere went to CUBA, then any and all discussions of "reparations" must begin with what CUBA is going to pay to Africa.
Given that the Democrat Party is 100% complicit both in slavery and Jim Crow laws, I wonder when Howard Dean will announce that the party will take all the money in its coffers and contribute it to the Rainbow Coalition.