Reparations, Anyone? Insurance Companies Admit To Selling Policies Covering Slaves

Reparations, Anyone? Insurance Companies Admit To Selling Policies Covering Slaves
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If you thought the the Three-Fifths Compromise was bad, wait until you get a load of this. Some of the richest and most powerful insurance companies in the world have admitted that they benefited financially from slavery. 

Reportedly, at least 19 companies including New York Life (formerly known as Nautilus Insurance Company, 508 policies sold), Aetna Life Insurance Company, American International Group (AIG), and US Life Insurance issued life and injury policies to slave owners. In light of the massive wealth amassed on the backs of the most destitute ethnic group in America today, the issue of reparations must be revisited.

New York Life

When New York Life opened its doors at 58 Wall Street in the spring of 1845, business was slow. They turned to the South as a source of revenue as slavery was still legal and business was strong. After one of their agents sold 30 slave policies in one day in February 1846, news traveled fast and other insurance companies followed suit. Ads were placed in newspapers offering coverage for slaves engaged in hazardous work like firemen and coal miners as well as everyday occupations like waiters and cigar makers. 

New York Life Ad For Slave Policies

The New York Times reported that New York Life's first president, James De Peyster Ogden, at one time was a huge advocate of "the American practice of human bondage" but later denounced it as "evil." By 1847, ironically, insurance policies on slaves accounted for 1/3 of the policies they issued. New York Life would later become a Fortune 100 company.

James De Peyster Ogden
New York Life's first president

As unconscionable as their actions were, insuring slaves prior to the abolishment of the practice was legal. (Remember that white people wrote the laws.) Slaves were viewed as property and vital to the success of their businesses. According to an article published in the New York Times, banks that were eventually absorbed by JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo permitted slave owners to use slaves as collateral for loans. And when they defaulted on the loans, the banks even took possession of them.

In an interview with ABC News, attorney, human rights activist, and reparations proponent Deadria Farmer-Paellmann said it best, “The slave policies actually financed the enslavement of Africans. So, an individual who might be uncertain about investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the purchasing of humans might get the go-ahead from Aetna. You know: ‘Go ahead, buy that person. If they die, we’ve got you covered. You can buy another one.’” Reparations activists tend to agree:

Benefactors of this practice (which includes slave owners, insurance company owners, shareholders, and principals as well as their descendants) would have Blacks believe that the end of slavery and an apology by President Bill Clinton should move them to forgive and forget. And yet, the Obama administration quietly gave Holocaust survivors, a tragedy at the hands of Germans, another $12 million just last year. (Perhaps that payment was connected to the role U.S. banks played in financing Hitler's regime?) 

According to the National Poverty Center statistics, Black people are the poorest ethnic group in this country. Corporations as well as the educational institutions they have shared their wealth with like Brown, University of Virginia, Georgetown (which was saved by the sale of 272 slaves in 1838), and Harvard were built by the sweat and suffering of a systematically oppressed people. While some have offered apologies to Black people, more can and should be done.

The current disparities in economics, education, social justice and health alone have stemmed from slavery and its extension, the Jim Crow Era. The laws have been designed to help White people keep the fruits of their ill-gotten gains. Black people aren't looking for a handout. They have proved that the same things they did to build an empire for Whites, they can do for themselves. The truth is out. The end of slavery promised 40 acres and a mule. It's high time Black people get it.

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