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Wachovia apologizes for slavery ties
Bank satisfies Chicago ordinance requiring companies with city contracts to disclose slavery ties.
June 2, 2005: 1:08 PM EDT
By Katie Benner, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Wachovia Corporation has apologized for its ties to slavery after disclosing that two of its historical predecessors owned slaves and accepted them as payment.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia (down $0.27 to $51.08, Research) issued a 111-page report to comply with a Chicago ordinance that requires companies that do business with the city to disclose whether they profited from slavery, which ended in the United States in 1865.

"On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent," said Ken Thompson, Wachovia chairman and chief executive officer, in the statement released late Wednesday. "We are deeply saddened by these findings."

Historians at the History Factory, a research firm specializing in corporate archival work, found that the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company and the Bank of Charleston -- institutions that ultimately became part of Wachovia through acquisitions -- owned slaves, Wachovia said in the statement.

Records revealed that the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company owned at least 162 slaves, Wachovia said, and that the Bank of Charleston accepted at least 529 slaves as collateral on mortgaged properties or loans. The Bank of Charleston also acquired an undetermined number of people when customers defaulted on their loans.

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

"We want to promote a better understanding of the African-American experience, including the unique struggles, triumphs and contributions of African-Americans, and their important role in America's past and present," he added.

Slavery disclosures

The announcement comes as a handful of cities nationwide propose initiatives requiring banks and other large companies to investigate and disclose ties to slavery.

Lawsuits have also been filed over the past few years by descendents of slaves, who seek billions of dollars in reparations from companies for their ties to slavery. These companies include R.J. Reynolds (up $0.29 to $82.90, Research) and Aetna (down $0.12 to $78.73, Research).

Fellow banking giant J.P. Morgan (down $0.39 to $35.37, Research) released a similar disclosure in January, also in order to comply with Chicago's slavery ordinance, bank spokesman Tom Kelly told CNN/Money.

After revealing that a predecessor institution in Louisiana used slaves as collateral, JP Morgan apologized for its ties to slavery, and established a $5 million college scholarship program for African-American students from Louisiana.

The Chicago ordinance, which went into effect January 2003, was designed, "to promote full and accurate disclosure to the public about any slavery policies sold by any companies, or profits from slavery by other industries (or their predecessors) who are doing business with the city."

There is no penalty for companies that disclose they had ties to slavery, but as with any disclosure, companies that make false statements can have their contract with the city voided.

Along with Chicago, Richmond, Va., Philadelphia and Los Angeles also require companies that do business within city limits to disclose financial ties with slavery. City council members in Berkeley, Calif., proposed an ordinance this week that would nullify city contracts with companies that do not acknowledge past practices that aided slavery.

Wachovia has made the full research report available on its Web site, and said it plans to partner with community organizations to further awareness of African-American history.

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