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Wachovia discloses past ties to slavery - Bank issues apology for predecesssors that profited from the slave trade

Posted in the database on Friday, June 03rd, 2005 @ 19:24:25 MST (2214 views)
by BEN WERNER    The State  

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Bank issues apology for predecesssors that profited from the slave trade

Wachovia Corp., the nation’s fourth-largest bank and largest lender in South Carolina, issued an apology Wednesday for its ties to the slave trade around the time of the Civil War.

Two banks that ultimately became part of Wachovia — the Bank of Charleston and The Georgia Railroad and Banking Co. — were cited as having profited directly from the slave trade.

The examples are numerous. In one case, an early Hilton Head developer used a couple of plantations and more than 300 slaves as collateral with the bank in Charleston.

“On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African decent,” Ken Thompson, Wachovia chairman, said through a statement released with an exhaustive 100-plus page report detailing the Charlotte-based bank’s ties to slavery.

The report concluded:

• Both predecessor companies owned or held as collateral several hundred slaves.

• The predecessor companies profited directly from the slave trade or use of slave labor.

• Several founders and board members of the predecessor companies were directly involved in the slave trade.

The report, conducted by the Chantilly, Va.-based History Factory, was commissioned by Wachovia as the bank sought to satisfy a two-year-old Chicago ordinance requiring companies doing business with the city to disclose their ties — if any — to slavery.

Similar ordinances have been passed in other municipalities, including Philadelphia. In North Carolina, the legislature is considering a disclosure bill that is bottled-up in a committee.

Wachovia, which issues revenue bonds for municipalities nationwide, is involved in public housing redevelopment in Chicago.

Earlier this year, another leading bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., acknowledged that two of its predecessor banks had received thousands of slaves as collateral before the Civil War. The New York-based bank made the disclosure also as part of doing business with Chicago.

John Boyd, the president of National Black Farmers Association, said his group has been picketing and lobbying Wachovia and other banking giants for eight years, urging them to investigate and acknowledge their historical involvement with the slave trade.

“We challenge other banks to come forth and step up to the plate and acknowledge their past, like Wachovia did,” Boyd said Wednesday. “We feel as though this is a step in the right direction.”

Wachovia did not announce specific programs, but pledged to work with community organizations to further awareness and education of black history.

Records of the ties binding Bank of Charleston, the predecessor in South Carolina, to slavery are not complete. However, enough information is included in the report to understand how the bank profited from slavery:

BUSINESS: In several instances, the report cites bank records that show slaves were used as collateral by customers trying to secure loans. Slaves, considered property, were used much in the same way people today use their homes to secure a second mortgage.

One example cited is the experience of early Hilton Head Island developer John Stoney.

In the early 1800s, Stoney and his brother acquired significant tracts of land on the island. In 1837, John Stoney mortgaged virtually all his “real and personal property to the Bank of Charleston for $400,000,” the report said.

These holdings included a pair of Hilton Head plantations and more than 300 slaves.

A year later, Stoney died and ownership of his property was tied up in court for several years. Eventually, the bank gained ownership of about 1,000 acres. The land was auctioned off. It is not clear whether any slaves were on the plantation at that time.

BUSINESS INVESTMENT: The Bank of Charleston, in the normal course of business, invested in other companies that owned or used slave labor.

Among the largest examples cited is the bank’s investment in the S.C. Rail Road Co. The rail line used slave labor and even recorded the hiring of a physician to tend to the slaves.

STATE INVESTMENT: Like most Southern banks during the Civil War, the report said the Bank of Charleston loaned money to the Confederate South Carolina government. By 1862, the bank had loaned more than $1.5 million to the state government.

The bank helped the Confederacy in other ways. At the end of June 1864, the Bank of Charleston donated its books from the defunct Bank of the United States to the Charleston Arsenal. The pages were used to make ammunition cartridges.

OWNERSHIP OF BOARD: The report cited several Bank of Charleston board members as being slave owners or directors of other businesses that owned or used slave labor.

An example is James Hamilton, a bank founder and first president. He owned Rice Hope plantation on the Savannah River. In 1842, Hamilton bought 22 slaves.

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

Reach Werner at (803) 771-8509 or at bwerner@thestate.com. The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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