J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. are among 18 corporate defendants named in a slave-reparations case to be heard tomorrow in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
The case is a consolidation of nine cases filed by African-Americans across America in 2002. Among the other defendants are Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Aetna Inc., New York Life Insurance Co., and Lloyds TSB Group.
Prior to 1865, when slavery was abolished, predecessor companies of J.P.Morgan, Bank of America, and of other banks extended loans to slave-owners using slaves as collateral for the loans, the consolidated lawsuit alleges.
The predecessor companies of major insurance companies, such as Aetna and Lloyds of London, wrote life-insurance policies on the lives of slaves with slaveowners as the beneficiaries, it says.
“Our goal is to secure restitution of ill-gotten gains to create a trust fund to benefit the descendants of slaves,” the lead plaintiff in the case, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, said. The lawsuit was dismissed last year, but she’s confident that it will get through on appeals. The case, according to Mrs. Farmer-Paellmann, is similar to the one brought by relatives of Holocaust victims, leading to a $1.25 billion settlement from Swiss banks.
“Slavery is a crime against humanity under international law,” she added. “There’s no statute of limitation.”
The case also seeks appropriate disclosure of the companies’ links to slavery.
A J.P. Morgan spokesman, Tom Kelly, declined to comment on the case, while a Bank of America representative wasn’t immediately available. A number of cities, including Chicago, Richmond, Va., and Los Angeles, now require such disclosure from the banks that extend loans, mortgages, and credit cards to consumers in their area.
Last year, both Wachovia Corp.and J.P. Morgan apologized for their banks’ ties to slavery, after finding evidence of such ties as part of their required compliance with Chicago’s disclosure rule.
J.P. Morgan also started a $5 million college-scholarship program for African-American students from Louisiana.