Date: June 10, 2005
Byline: Betsey Piette
Wachovia admits slave trade profits
After initially denying ties to slavery in January, executives at Wachovia Bank disclosed in a June 2 report that the bank's predecessor institutions the Bank of Charleston, S.C., and the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company "owned" at least 162 enslaved Africans and accepted 529 more as "collateral" on loans.
The 111-page report was prepared by the History Factory, a firm specializing in corporate archival work. It also revealed that war financier Robert Morris a founder of a forerunner institution, Bank of North America used profits from the slave trade to start Wachovia in 1781.
And the Bank of Charleston provided financial assistance to the confederate government throughout the Civil War.
The admission by the North-Carolina-based Wachovia, the country's fourth-biggest bank, follows similar disclosures by Lehman Brothers; J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., which is parent company of Bank One; and the Savings Bank of Baltimore, which is part of the Wachovia network.
Like Wachovia, J. P. Morgan Chase initially disavowed ties to slavery. Eventually, Morgan executives were forced to acknowledge that two predecessor banks accepted 13,000 enslaved Africans "as collateral," taking "ownership" of 1,250 when loans defaulted.
There were over 4 million enslaved Africans by 1865, when slavery was abolished upon ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution after the military defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The legacy of slavery, however, continues to be felt today in rampant racism.
Major struggles for reparations are being waged. These include demands for federal reparations legislation. There are also lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from such companies as R.J. Reynolds, Aetna Inc. and CSX Corp. for the descendants of enslaved Africans.
The disclosures by these major banking institutions were made under pressure from the cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Richmond, Va. These cities passed ordinances calling on city contractors to reveal any history of making money from slavery.
Chicago's Slave Era Disclosure Ordinance, passed in 2003, was designed to demonstrate how enslaved Africans were the life blood of the original 13 colonies as well as the new United States after independence from England.
Put money where your mouth is!
Wachovia is the leading manager of the Philadelphia city government's bank accounts. Philadelphia's ordinance, signed in February, asks corporations that seek contracts with the city to disclose if they profited from slavery.
Wachovia issued an apology. Officials said the bank would offer support for community organizations working to further awareness and education of African American history. But Philadelphia attorney Michael Coard, leader of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, described Wachovia's action as "a publicity stunt that had nothing to do with sincere remorse but everything to do with denying its racism of the past from slave profiteering and of the present from discriminatory redlining."
Coard said: "If Wachovia is truly remorseful, it would put its money where its mouth is. Talk is cheap!"
ATAC, as part of the overall reparations movement, has been waging an increasingly successful battle to force the federal government to commemorate the enslaved Africans who were owned by George Washington at the first "White House," which is at the current site of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Like most major urban areas, communities of color in Philadelphia have been devastated by decades of redlining. In much the same way that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have kept developing countries impoverished and at the mercy of the multinational banks and corporations by only extending loans with excessively high rates of interest, U.S. banks have withheld home loans from neighborhoods considered poor investment risks. This has led to widespread economic decline in these areas. Now laws prohibiting red-lining are under attack from the Bush administration.
These banks could not have become the powerful financial institutions they are today if it weren't for the tremendous profits they made off the cruel slave trade and slavery.