The Case Against Slave Reparations

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Reparations coverThis 48-page monograph was written by NLPC President Peter Flaherty and NLPC Director of Policy John Carlisle. First published in 2004, it was extensively updated in 2008. NLPC recently gave permission to Cengage Learning to reprint pages 18-20 in a forthcoming book titled Global Viewpoints: Slavery.

Click here or on the cover to the right to download the pdf version.

NLPC is a critic of banks that caved in to pro-reparations activists.  JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wachovia and now-defunct Lehman Brothers “apologized” for alleged links to slavery.

In 2007, NLPC sponsored a JPMorgan Chase shareholder proposal that addressed the issue. The resolution was presented by Deneen Borelli, a Fellow of Project 21, an African-American leadership project.

The resolution read:

Resolved: Shareholders request JPMorgan Chase & Co. management to report to shareholders by October 1, 2007, at a reasonable cost and excluding confidential information, descriptions of initiatives instituted by management to address the Company’s alleged links to slavery and other abuses of human rights.

The supporting statement read:

Shareholders have a right to know if management is opening the Company to possible legal liability.

In a January 20, 2005 letter, then-Chairman & CEO William B. Harrison Jr. and then-President & COO Jamie Dimon stated, “We apologize to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public...” This apology was accompanied by a Company pledge to establish a $5 million scholarship fund for African-Americans.

The apology and monetary pledge were apparently prompted by a Company-commissioned report produced in response to a municipal ordinance in Chicago, requiring firms doing business with the city to disclose their links to slavery. The report found only the most tenuous connections to slavery over 200 years ago by two banks whose successor banks had been acquired by the Company.

The apology and pledge tends to demonstrate Company acceptance of the concept of guilt based on race or ethnicity. The Company also seems to embrace the concept of cross-generational guilt.

Both ideas are contrary to the concept of individual rights. People should be judged on their actions as individuals, not as members of a particular racial group. Likewise, individuals should be responsible for their own actions, not those of persons who lived 200 years ago.

The Company is currently being sued by plaintiffs seeking damages that they characterize as “slave reparations.”  Future claimants might include the descendents of:

• Irish who were widely discriminated against in the nineteenth century. Irish children worked 14-hour days in New England textile mills that were prominent customers of local banks. On docks and in quarries, Irish were sometimes used for jobs too dangerous for slaves.

• Chinese who were restricted from employment, property ownership, and marrying non-Chinese. Financed by banks, the westward push of the railroads relied on Chinese laborers who endured near-slave wages and conditions.

• Native Americans who were pushed off their lands by a variety of bank-financed economic interests. Even the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, who successfully appealed such expropriations to the Supreme Court, lost their lands in Mississippi and Georgia in extra-judicial seizures.

• Indentured servants of many nationalities who provided unpaid labor for a period of years before attaining freedom, if they lived long enough. Because as many as one-half of immigrants to America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came under some form of servitude, they played a key role in America’s early economy. Also, white slavery was legal in some states and was practiced separate and apart from voluntary and involuntary servitude.

In 2005, NLPC criticized Wachovia (since acquired by Wells Fargo) for making a commitment to loan $1 billion over five years to “auto dealers of color” through a partnership with the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD). The commitment came just after its slavery “apology.”

According to the DiversityInc website, Wachovia spokesman Ferris Morrison denied that the billion-dollar initiative was related to the apology.

According to DiversityInc:

Wachovia and NAMAD were brought together by Al Pina, head of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition (FMCRC), whose mission is to ensure that the companies with a presence in Florida invest in lower-income communities and businesses run by people of color.

At the time, Pina was leading a boycott of SunTrust, in which NAMAD was participating. Pina threatened a hunger strike if SunTrust did not meet his demands to invest more in lower-income communities. According to press reports, Pina’s hunger strike threat was at least his third such threat up until that time.

Flaherty said at the time:

In light of the SunTrust boycott in which NAMAD is taking part, is the Wachovia commitment nothing more than protection money? Again, Wachovia CEO J. Kenneth Thompson has failed to exercise leadership by seeking to appease shakedown artists.

According to NAMAD’s website, there existed 28,000 “ethnic minority dealerships” in the United States as of 2003. The total included 192 Porsche dealerships, 300 BMW dealerships, 169 Jaguar dealerships, 206 Lexus dealerships, and 1,372 Lincoln dealerships.
NAMAD membership costs $5,000 per year and is “limited to those persons of ethnic minority descent who currently own a dealership.”

Flaherty said:

It is wrong to make business decisions on the basis of race. It is a disservice to Wachovia’s shareholders and other customers who will subsidize this already-comfortable group. Wachovia should instead treat each and every customer the same, without regard to race, religion or national origin.

Of course, it was in the name of “community reinvestment” that banks made billions in subprime loans, leading to the financial meltdown and massive taxpayer bailouts. Even with the bailout of auto companies, thousands of auto dealerships are about to disappear. How many Wachovia loans will never be repaid?