House Subcommittee Drops a Bombshell: It Will Hold a Hearing Next Tuesday on U.S. Banks’ Role in Financing “the Horrors of Slavery”

New York Slave Market. Source -- New York Public Library Digital Collection.

New York Slave Market. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection.

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: March 30, 2022 ~

The hearing set for next Tuesday at 2 p.m. by the House Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is certain to have brought all of the public relations flacks into a huddle at JPMorgan Chase – home to an unprecedented five felony counts and the Teflon guy, Jamie Dimon, who still manages to get good press despite overseeing a financial crime spree for 16 years while becoming a billionaire in the process. The hearing is titled: “An Enduring Legacy: The Role of Financial Institutions in the Horrors of Slavery and the Need for Atonement.” It is certain to look at the notorious, previously disclosed role of JPMorgan Chase’s predecessor banks.

In 2005, JPMorgan Chase was forced to acknowledge that two of its subsidiaries, Citizens’ Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana, had accepted slaves as collateral for loans and when the holders of the loans defaulted, it actually took ownership of the slaves. The two subsidiary banks had served plantation owners from the 1830s to approximately 1865 when the civil war ended. JPMorgan Chase estimated that the two subsidiaries had accepted an estimated 13,000 slaves as collateral and had ended up owning about 1,250 slaves as a result of defaulted loans.

The revelations from JPMorgan Chase came about as a result of an ordinance passed in Chicago in 2003 that required companies doing business with the city to research their history to determine any past ties to slavery.

Wall Street banks were also involved in selling securities to finance the expansion of slave-run plantations in the southern United States.

Alan Singer reported in 2017 at the Huffington Post that the predecessor bank to today’s Citigroup’s Citibank “was headed by a banker and sugar trader named Moses Taylor who was deeply involved in financing the illegal 19th century trans-Atlantic slave trade smuggling Africans into Cuba.”

While there is still much sunshine that needs to shine on Wall Street’s role in perpetuating slavery in the United States, New York City’s dismal role received more attention on June 27, 2015. On that date then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dedicated a memorial plaque at a site just two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange where thousands of enslaved men, women and children had been bought and sold at a Wall Street slave market that operated from 1711 to 1762.

The plaque states in part: “Slavery was introduced to Manhattan in 1626. By the mid-18th century approximately one in five people living in New York City was enslaved and almost half of Manhattan households included at least one slave.”

According to an article published in 2015 by the New York Public Library, “the slave market on Wall Street closed in 1762 but men, women, and children continued to be bought and sold throughout the city.” The article also reveals this shocking history about New York City:

“By 1730, 42 percent of the population owned slaves, a higher percentage than in any other city in the country except Charleston, South Carolina. The enslaved population—which ranged between 15 and 20 percent of the total — literally built the city and was the engine that made its economy run.”

Wall Street banks are still the last plantation in America. They run their own private justice system that locks claims out of the nation’s courts. (See Wall Street’s Kangaroo Courts Perpetuate a Business Model of Fraud.) Discrimination against minorities is still rampant on Wall Street. Stroll through any one of the major Wall Street brokerage offices – such as Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley – and you will observe a sea of white males sitting in the glass-paneled offices with women mostly relegated to clerical desks outside those offices. Black brokers, male or female, are still a rarity at Wall Street brokerage firms.

Let’s hope that these aspects of Wall Street also become part of the conversation at the hearing on April 5.

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