By Danette Clark August, 2012
This is the fourth article in a series on President Obama’s reparation agenda. Previous articles revealed several of Obama’s appointees and White House Fellows and their connection to the reparations movement.
Several long-time friends and colleagues of the president are known for advocating reparations through marches, conferences, and speaking engagements. Others have been moving the agenda forward by working on the legal aspects of reparation claims, to build cases that might succeed where previous lawsuits have failed.
In 2002, Dorothy Tillman, former Chicago City Council member, proposed the Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance, the first city ordinance in the U.S. to require companies wishing to do business with the City of Chicago to research its records to determine whether they or their predecessors profited from slavery.
Although Tillman claimed that, under the ordinance, companies found to have ties to slavery would not be prevented from bidding on contracts, several sources reported that the city council made it very clear they believed companies should pay for profiting from slavery and that any information obtained from them through the ordinance would be immediately turned over to attorneys for use in reparation lawsuits.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the passing of the ordinance stating that Alderman Edward Burke announced from the council floor that CSX Railroad, a company whose predecessors were believed to have used slave labor, would not be granted zoning approvals unless they paid reparations.
Tillman, a long-time friend of Obama, admits the ordinance was originally designed to gather information to make a case for reparation lawsuits. She declared in the Louis Farrakhan/Nation of Islam publication, Final Call, “It’s much more than businesses acknowledging they received profits from slavery. This is about black labor and white wealth… Financial institutions wouldn’t be anything without the backs of black people”.
Sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound like ‘You didn’t build that’?
Among many other outrageous statements regarding slavery, Tillman has also been quoted as saying, “Americans have a shame that they have to look at. We built this country. Can you imagine owning a business with free labor, 400 years of free labor and 150 years of Jim Crow?”.
Again, ‘You didn’t build that’.
Tillman modeled the Chicago ordinance after California legislation that passed two years earlier requiring insurance companies to research and reveal any slavery ties they might have.
The California legislation –- get this –- was written by then Senator Tom Hayden, former member of the 1960s domestic terrorist group, the Weather Undergound, which was co-founded by Obama friend and neighbor, Bill Ayers. What are the odds? Out of approximately 40 California state senators, anti-capitalist Hayden was the one to introduce legislation that has the potential to cripple scores of America’s largest corporations.
Several cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, have since followed Chicago’s lead and enacted their own slave disclosure ordinances. As a result, dozens of corporations, including JP Morgan Chase, Aetna, Wachovia, and Fleet Boston, have admitted ties to slavery. Their names have been released to the public and they’ve all been named as defendants in lawsuits.
How do corporations that didn’t exist prior to the 1900s have ties to the slave trade? They don’t. Nonetheless, modern-day companies are expected to be responsible for the 150-year-old activities of their predecessors, no matter how distant or tenuous the connection.
For example, according to a report from the National Legal and Policy Center, Dorothy Tillman accused Bank of America of lying when it responded to the city ordinance by reporting it had no past ties to slavery. Tillman contended that Bank of America was complicit in the slave trade because John Brown, a co-founder of Providence Bank in 1791, was a slave-owner. Providence Bank became part of Fleet Boston sometime over the next 200 years and then Bank of America acquired Fleet Boston in 2004.
Bank of America argued that Brown’s personal connection to slavery was irrelevant because it did not mean Bank of America profited from slavery. Tillman proceeded to threaten to cancel a $500 million refinancing contract that existed between Bank of America and the city if the bank did not admit that it profited from slavery.
FleetBoston is also being sued for reparations. The company can be traced to hundreds of predecessor banks but only one has been found to have links to slavery.
In a short time, several corporations began to cave to the extortion tactics used by city council members and others like the NAACP, who threatened boycotts and protests if the companies refused to come to the table to talk reparations. In an attempt to appease activists, corporations began issuing formal apologies and donating millions to African American organizations.
In 2005, however, when JP Morgan Chase issued its apology and created a $5 million college scholarship fund for African American students in Louisiana, reparation advocates denounced the donation as a “joke” and “insulting”. Reparation plaintiffs attorney, Lionel Jean Baptiste, said, “To give back $5 million does not begin to make up for the tremendous wealth that JP Morgan Chase extracted from enslaved Africans”.
Bank of America’s written apology and $5 million donation was also met with a negative response from council members. Tillman said Bank of America’s report was “disingenuous” and insisted she had evidence that Providence Bank was involved in manufacturing leg irons for slaves.
The San Francisco and Oakland ordinances both included the establishment of a fund for “the collection of voluntary contributions from Contractors subject to the ordinance… to be used to ameliorate the legacy of the Slavery Era”. No pressure there.
One thing slave-era ordinances and state laws currently in effect have in common is that they all require companies to submit the names of any slaves and slave holders discovered in their records. Those names are then provided to the public for use in reparation lawsuits.
Because of the failure of previous lawsuits that demanded reparations for an unspecified group of people, “the descendants of slaves”, for example, attorneys and lawmakers learned that the courts require specifically-named plaintiffs and defendants. That’s where slave-era disclosure laws and web sites like Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com come in.
If you recall in my most recent article in this series, I mentioned Obama appointee, James Wagner. Wagner is president of Emory University, home to a trans-Atlantic slave trade database used to locate the names of slaves.
Ironically, back in 2000, the same year the California slave-era legislation passed, a reporter with CBS in Chicago ran a piece on the passing of a resolution proposed by Dorothy Tillman calling on Congress to consider payments to the descendants of slaves. This piece included an interview with then Professor Barack Obama, whom the reporter referred to as an expert on the matter. In the interview, Obama said, “Generally, the Supreme Court has a philosophy that you have to identify a clear wrongdoer and a clear victim.”
The clip of Obama is no longer available through CBS Chicago but can be viewed at the end of this video. The video was posted to YouTube by a reparation activist who claims he saw Obama at the 2000 committee meeting and that Obama stood and spoke in support of reparations to the descendants of slaves that day.
President Obama’s long-time friend and mentor, Charles Ogletree, is the head of the Reparations Coordinating Committee, which has been actively pursuing claims against the corporations named through disclosure laws.
Ogletree, a member of Obama’s Black Advisory Council during his 2008 Presidential Campaign, has served as legal advisor to Dorothy Tillman.
Several other members of the Reparations Coordinating Committee have a connection to President Obama. For example, RCC members Cornel West and Marable Manning are believed to have been members of the New Party alongside Obama. Cornel West also served as an advisor to Obama’s 2008 campaign.
As shameful and cruel as slavery was, it is today’s CEOs, shareholders, and employees, many of whom are African American, who will suffer under the weight being placed on these companies.
So many questions come to mind. Why has this extortion racket been allowed to continue? Aren’t discrimination laws being violated by cities and states against corporations for actions carried out before the corporation existed? Will the courts be willing to punish companies for actions that weren’t even a crime when they were carried out?
I’m sure former Alderwoman Tillman and many others would argue no corporations have been denied a contract based on their connection to slavery and, therefore, no one has been discriminated against. However, the City of Los Angeles allows some companies to request an exemption from complying with its slavery disclosure ordinance. The exemption request form states that exemptions may be awarded if the “goods or services are… only available from a single source” or if “the City would suffer a financial loss or that City operations would be adversely impacted unless exempted.”
In other words, companies the city needs financially are exempt and companies they don’t need to keep the city running have to comply with the ordinance.
It’s pretty obvious extortion tactics have been used by people with a personal connection to President Obama. Whether or not Obama has been involved directly is unclear, but not without question. Something that raises an eyebrow with regard to several of the companies targeted for shakedown is this -– they were among the top contributors to President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, in some cases, donating more than twice as much to Obama than to McCain.
Even more interesting is the fact that several of the CEOs and/or chairmen who actually submitted the heart-felt apologizes for their companies’ involvement with slavery and signed off on multi-million dollar donations to the African American community, are now serving or have served appointment positions in the Obama White House.
Later, to finish out this series, I will explain the specific legal hurdles, both in federal and international courts, that reparation activists have been working to overcome and how President Obama is helping them.