- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

A second class-action lawsuit was filed yesterday against U.S. companies that benefited from the slave trade, while the California Department of Insurance released records from six companies detailing their policies that had insured the lives of black slaves.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Newark, N.J., on behalf of Richard E. Barber Sr., a former deputy executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, against New York Life Insurance Co., Wall Street investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. and Norfolk Southern Corp.
"This is just another step in a series of upcoming political and legal moves that will address the issue of reparations for American slave descendants," said plaintiff attorney Edward Fagan, who was involved in reaching recent Holocaust settlements with German companies and Swiss banks.
"Similar suits will be filed all over the country in the coming months," Mr. Fagan added.
In March, Aetna Inc., CSX Corp. and FleetBoston Financial Corp. were named in a lawsuit filed by the same group of attorneys in Brooklyn federal court on behalf of a 36-year-old black activist.
Also yesterday, in a report issued under a state law that makes such lawsuits easier, the California insurance department said Aetna, AIG, New York Life and Royal & Sun Alliance provided records indicating they or their predecessors may have issued policies to slaveholders.
ACE USA submitted an Aetna Life policy on a slave, which it said was written after Aetna Life and ACE's corporate predecessor parted ways. Penn Mutual also submitted a policy, but it had no corporate name attached to it.
A new California law requires insurance companies to divulge any connection they may have had to the slave trade.
AIG submitted a magazine article that contained a "replica of a policy issued to a slaveholder in the amount of $550.00 on the life of one male slave known as 'Charles,'" according to the report.
ACE reported that it found a copy of a slave policy written in 1855 by Aetna Life and issued in Mississippi, insuring the life of a slave laborer named Peter.
The insurance department also released a separate database with the names of about 675 slaves and more than 300 slaveholders.
The department also found evidence that the practice of insuring workers was not limited to black slaves. Manhattan Life provided one policy that insured shippers for their cargo of 700 Chinese laborers on a journey from China in 1854, the report said.
The workers were valued at $120 each. After three jumped overboard and 11 others died of disease, Manhattan Life paid $408, according to a 1961 speech made by the company's president, the report said.
Aetna spokesman David Carter said the company regrets the existence of the policies.
"We believe it's important to move from this point and focus on where our company is today and where we can be tomorrow," Mr. Carter said.
New York Life spokesman William Werfelman said the company "abhors the practice of slavery historically and currently, and we profoundly regret that our predecessor company, Nautilus, was associated in any way with it for even a brief period of time."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he plans to urge other states to initiate similar legislation requiring companies to report on slave policies.
"Much more research must be done to understand the full breadth of the insurance industry's involvement," he said.
About 92 percent of the 1,350 life, property and casualty insurance companies doing business in California and thus covered by the law even though the policies were written elsewhere have responded, said Leslie Tick, the agency's senior staff counsel.
Meanwhile yesterday, Mr. Barber described the New Jersey suit as "a debt owed to the descendants of slaves."
"Certain corporations benefited from the use of stolen labor and built their profits and wealth on the backs of enslaved Africans," he said. "It is finally time for them to account for these historical injustices and to pay back the monies unjustly acquired by their actions."
Mr. Barber served as regional administrator of the Small Business Administration in the Carter administration.
The lawsuit demanded an accounting by the companies for monies derived from the slave trade and requested unjust profits be turned over. It also wanted production of corporate documents and the establishment of a humanitarian fund to benefit blacks, lawyer Roger Wareham said.
Mr. Fagan said the black American reparation suits were similar to Holocaust suits in demanding an accounting of slave-labor profits in the same way corporations were required to account for their profiteering from Jewish slave labor in World War II.
Courts also allowed descendents of Holocaust survivors to benefit, a point essential to the slave lawsuits, because no former slaves are alive.
According to the suit, one-third of the first 1,000 life-insurance policies written by New York Life predecessor Nautilus Insurance Co. between 1846 and 1847 were on the lives of slaves.
New York Life, the only company named in the New Jersey lawsuit and the California document release, said it would prevail in court.
"Any lawsuits about events 150 years ago face huge legal hurdles, and we fully expect to prevail in court. It is far more appropriate to judge a company by its values and actions today," Mr. Werfelman said.

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