Dec. 6, 2005 – Decrying a refusal by banks implicated in the US slave trade to pay reparations to the descendents of enslaved blacks, a collection of religious, community, student and political groups yesterday called for a boycott of student loans backed by finance companies with historical ties to slavery.
Yesterday, the Restitution Study Group, an organization that advocates for reparations, announced the boycott against JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia and Bank of America. The organization itself, along with most of the campaignâ€™s sponsors, is not a student-activists group, but the boycott is restricted to urging students not to obtain loans from target institutions.
In January, JP Morgan Chase became the first to admit it had profited on the backs of blacks, after a historian found several verifiable links. Specifically, two banks previously owned by the company were found to have accepted slaves as loan collateral, leading them to own about 1,250 slaves due to defaulted loans.
Following the revelation, the company apologized for profiting from human misery and set up a $5 million scholarship fund but has, so far, resisted demands from some that it pay restitution.
Wachovia followed a slightly different route after commissioning a study of its history to comply with a Chicago, Illinois law requiring companies doing business with the city to make public any information about profits made through slavery. The company apologized for its past involvement in human trafficking, but maintained it is impossible to tell how many people were enslaved by antecedent banks or how much money the banks made from the trade. Wachovia offered no economic remedy for its past.
"We apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent," Wachovia said in a statement accompanying the release of its findings. "While we can in no way atone for the past, we can learn from it, and we can continue to promote a better understanding of the African-American story, including the unique struggles, triumphs and contributions of African-Americans, and their important role in Americaâ€™s past and present."
While JP Morgan Chase and Wachovia come clean over their past, Bank of America contends that independent research found it had made no money from the slave trade.
In a statement announcing the findings, the company said researchers "found examples of abolitionist sentiment among the founders and directors of several of the bankâ€™s predecessors and strong objections to doing business with commercial interests involved in slavery."
The aversion to such associations apparently changed sometime before Bank of America recently took over Fleet Bank, a company targeted by the boycott because its founder was himself a slave owner.
Yesterday, the Restitution Study Group announced that a coalition of student, religious, community and other groups are committed to pulling loan money from the three parent banks and their subsidiary lending institutions until reparations are paid. The groupâ€™s head, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against JP Morgan and seventeen other companies over restitution for profiting from slavery.
The movement for reparations is based on the idea that slavery in the US not only denied captive Africans of economic compensation for their work, but that those individualsâ€™ present-day heirs continue to suffer from that deprivation. Reparations advocates say that trillions of dollars that should have been paid the captive workforce before slaveryâ€™s abolition continues to be missing from the coffers of the African-American community. They argue that the heirs of companies that withheld those funds continue to benefit from the inheritance of that money.
"These companies have amassed enormous wealth off the backs of enslaved Africans," Farmer-Pallmann said. "They participated in institutionalized terrorism, genocide, rape, torture, and theft of humans. They owe us restitution, but they refuse to pay. They left us no choice but to boycott."