Depending on whom you ask, the legacy of American slavery persists to this day, and now an online petition is calling for reparations for the descendants of slaves. Its targets: some of the biggest banks in the world.
Slavery is, in a sense, America’s “original sin,” an odious institution that has an impact on cultural dialogue in the United States even 150 years after the war that ended it. There is no denying that, had American slavery never existed, the United States would be a vastly different country given the impact the “peculiar institution” had on the young nation’s economy.
Some argue that the United States should portion out its economic largesse descendants of slaves in order to make recompense for the cruelty suffered by their ancestors. The push for reparations, though, is sometimes hobbled by the question of just who should pay.
One petition on Change.org claims it has at least part of the answer. The petition, started in late October, says that a number of the nation’s largest financial institutions should definitely give up some cash for reparations, considering the ties that they once had to slavery.
Among the companies named are JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, the two largest banks in the U.S., with more than $4.5 trillion in combined assets. The petition notes that two of Bank of America’s predecessor banks – Boatman Savings Institution and Southern Bank of St. Louis – had ties to slavery, while another – Bank of Metropolis – accepted slaves as collateral on loans.
JPMorgan Chase, the petition says, has even admitted its ties to American slavery, disclosing some years ago that two of its 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.”
JPMorgan Chase’s admission was just one action the massive bank took to address its history of abetting human bondage. In 2005, the company issued an apology and established a $5 million scholarship program for African-American students, as well.
Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase aren’t the only big names the reparations petition puts out there. The petition also names health insurance giant Aetna, railroad company CSX, insurer AIG, and banking giant Wells Fargo as complicit in American slavery. These companies, or their predecessors, all either relied on slave labor or conducted business with slave owners prior to Emancipation. AIG, the petition says, even insured enslaved Africans as the property of their masters.
What form should the reparations take? It calls for the companies to set up “two massive banks, an economic development bank on the west coast and an economic development bank on the east coast.” The goal? Allowing descendants of African slaves to draw on the money for low interest loans “or free money to build businesses an industries throughout the United States.”
Currently, the petition has garnered only 1,774 signatures since it was put up. The companies named in the petition have not issued public responses to the call for reparations.
What do you think? Is the legacy of American slavery still enough of an issue that these massive corporations should do more to help the descendants of slaves? Or, like some politicians and pundits say, has America done enough in the years since the Civil War to address the aftermath of slavery?
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