Slavery and Profits, Then and Now

Wachovia Bank yesterday released a report on its history as a slave-owning and slave-profiting institution, with details going back almost 200 years. The report was motivated by laws passed by the cities of Chicago and Phliadelphia, which require city contractors to acknowledge any profits they might have earned from slavery — in the case of Wachovia, all from long-gone banks that were acquired decades ago.

This account of the report, from the Charlotte Observer, has several chilling details that make the past all too vivid, including in many cases the names of the slaves involved. Research by a company called The History Factory (itself a fascinating firm) turned up records and ledgers indicating that the Bank of Charleston granted 24 loans that were secured by slaves as collateral — for instance, “certain Negroes in Texas known as Lavinia and her family” — 529 slaves in all, some of which ended up as bank “property” when the loan recipients defaulted. The Georgia Railroad & Banking Co. purchased 162 slaves to build and maintain a railroad through northeast Georgia.

Even the wording of the Wachovia press release betrays the inhuman circumstance of slavery. The release awkwardly notes that the predecessor bank “subsequently acquired an undetermined number of these individuals when customers defaulted on their loans.” It acquired the individuals, indeed.

Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson apologized. “We are deeply saddened by these findings.” Wachovia has made the full 111-page report available on its Web site.CF