Starting in 1867, generations of African-Americans have unsuccessfully tried to convince Congress to pay reparations to the descendents of slaves. Now a new lawsuit is targeting corporations who benefited from slave labor prior to 1865, when the 13th Amendment outlawed involuntary servitude.
The first lawsuit to go after corporations names FleetBoston; insurers Aetna, New York Life and AIG; and J.P. Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank as defendants. The plaintiffs argue that these corporations possess wealth that was created by slave labor, and now it is time to pay that wealth back to African-Americans.
If this case is successful, it could lead to dozens of other companies being brought into similar lawsuits. Opponents to the lawsuit argue that in many cases, large corporations did not even exist prior to 1900 but can be tied to slavery through smaller companies that they have acquired. They also point out that today's companies have almost nothing in common with the companies that existed a century and a half ago.
This hour, the debate over reparations for slavery goes corporate. Should companies pay if they used slave labor one hundred and fifty years ago?
Alexander Pires, member of the Reparations Coordinating Committee, arguing the case against corporations
Glen Loury, professor of Economics, Director of Institute on Race and Social Division, Boston University
This program aired on March 7, 2002.