US: Wachovia Apologizes for Slavery Ties

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CNN Money

Wachovia Corporation has apologized for its ties
to slavery after disclosing that two of its historical predecessors
owned slaves and accepted them as payment.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia
issued a 111-page report to comply with a Chicago ordinance that
requires companies that do business with the city to disclose whether
they profited from slavery, which ended in the United States in 1865.

"On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans,
and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent,"
said Ken Thompson, Wachovia chairman and chief executive officer, in
the statement released late Wednesday. "We are deeply saddened by these
findings."

Historians at the History Factory, a research firm specializing in
corporate archival work, found that the Georgia Railroad and Banking
Company and the Bank of Charleston -- institutions that ultimately
became part of Wachovia through acquisitions -- owned slaves, Wachovia
said in the statement.

Records revealed that the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company owned
at least 162 slaves, Wachovia said, and that the Bank of Charleston
accepted at least 529 slaves as collateral on mortgaged properties or
loans. The Bank of Charleston also acquired an undetermined number of
people when customers defaulted on their loans.

"We know that we cannot change the past, and we can't make up for
the wrongs of slavery," said Thompson. "But we can learn from our past,
and begin a stronger dialogue about slavery and the experience of
African-Americans in our country."

"We want to promote a better understanding of the African-American
experience, including the unique struggles, triumphs and contributions
of African-Americans, and their important role in America's past and
present," he added.

Slavery disclosures

The announcement comes as a handful of cities nationwide propose
initiatives requiring banks and other large companies to investigate
and disclose ties to slavery.

Lawsuits have also been filed over the past few years by descendents
of slaves, who seek billions of dollars in reparations from companies
for their ties to slavery. These companies include R.J. Reynolds and Aetna.

Fellow banking giant J.P. Morgan
released a similar disclosure in January, also in order to comply with
Chicago's slavery ordinance, bank spokesman Tom Kelly told CNN/Money.

After revealing that a predecessor institution in Louisiana used
slaves as collateral, JP Morgan apologized for its ties to slavery, and
established a $5 million college scholarship program for
African-American students from Louisiana.

The Chicago ordinance, which went into effect January 2003, was
designed, "to promote full and accurate disclosure to the public about
any slavery policies sold by any companies, or profits from slavery by
other industries (or their predecessors) who are doing business with
the city."

There is no penalty for companies that disclose they had ties to
slavery, but as with any disclosure, companies that make false
statements can have their contract with the city voided.

Along with Chicago, Richmond, Va., Philadelphia and Los Angeles also
require companies that do business within city limits to disclose
financial ties with slavery. City council members in Berkeley, Calif.,
proposed an ordinance this week that would nullify city contracts with
companies that do not acknowledge past practices that aided slavery.

Wachovia has made the full research report available on its Web
site, and said it plans to partner with community organizations to
further awareness of African-American history.

AMP Section Name:Human Rights
  • 186 Financial Services, Insurance and Banking