Is this karma, or what?
Lehman Bros. link to slavery
Published Oct 23, 2008 10:09 PM
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Several financial institutions involved in the current U.S. economic
crisis—Lehman Bros., Wachovia Bank, Chase Bank and Aetna Inc.—have
interesting background stories and one thing in common: their connection to the
inhumane institution of slavery.
of slaves in
a ship galley.
Numerous capitalist merchants benefited hugely from the transatlantic slave
trade and the industries associated with it. For several centuries the
economies of the U.S. North and South were intertwined by slavery. By the
mid-1800s, capital investment in slaves was higher than the value of land or
any other capital worth.
Southern slave labor made New York City the financial capital of the world.
Cotton produced on plantations became the main product of export and a major
source of the city’s wealth. Large textile mills gave New York State a
Both cotton and enslaved workers treated as “property” were among
the first commodities on the stock market. Cotton trading accounted for the
country’s expansive growth for an extended historical period. Profits
from the slave trade financed the industrial revolution.
The Lehman family members were Alabama cotton brokers. In 1850 they founded
Lehman Brothers Investments, acquiring their capital and wealth by investing
and trading in cotton. Three sons moved to New York City in 1858, where they
later helped to establish the New York Cotton Exchange (1870).
In 1781, Wachovia Bank of North Carolina was founded on the profits of the
slave trade. Its predecessors, the Bank of Charleston, S.C., and the Bank of
North America, made loans to slave “owners” and accepted slaves as
collateral. When the owners defaulted on the loans the banks became the new
The Morgan family of Massachusetts was a major stock broker. JP Morgan brokers
became JP Morgan/Chase. Their predecessor banks also made loans to slave owners
and accepted 13,000 enslaved Africans as “collateral.” When owners
defaulted, the banks acquired their fortunes by becoming the new owners of
1,250 slaves. Chase Bank is owned by the Rockefeller family.
Another profitable company was Aetna Insurance Co., which sold insurance to
slave owners wanting to protect their investments of human cargo aboard the
slave ships and on the plantations, should a slave die. The life insurance
policies, issued in the 1850s, were intended to compensate slave owners for the
loss of people who were at that time considered “property.”
Wall Street and slavery are connected in other ways. Wall Street got its name
because of a physical wall built there along the river to protect New York City
from invasion. Slave labor built the wall and much of the city. Slave auctions
were held at the foot of Wall Street when ships carrying enslaved Africans
Slavery resulted in these capitalistic enterprises becoming profitable and
powerful. The foundation of U.S. capitalism was built on slave labor and
racism. After the Civil War, the U.S. went from competitive capitalism to
imperialism and became a financial empire.
Now the government is bailing out these same companies and the burden again is
falling most heavily on the working class, including the descendents of those
If only the enslaved Africans could have been fortunate enough to have been
bailed out of the slavery system, but it’s not too late for their
descendents to be given reparations.
Sources for the article include the Black Holocaust Museum of Slavery in
Philadelphia; “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks” by Randall
Robinson; and “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and
Profited from Slavery” by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer
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