Waters asks top U.S. banks for details on profits from American slavery

WASHINGTON — House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters sent a series of letters Tuesday to some of the nation’s largest banks and insurance companies asking whether they had studied their institution’s historic involvement in American chattel slavery. 

Waters announced in a press release Tuesday afternoon that top Democrats on her committee, including Texas Rep. Al Green, who leads the subcommittee on oversight and investigations, sent the letters to a total of 20 financial institutions asking for details on whether they had profited from the practice of U.S. slavery before it was outlawed in the 19th century. 

The banks included in Waters’ request include Bank of America, Capital One Financial, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Financial Services Group, Bank of New York Mellon, Truist Financial Corporation, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo. 

“We are writing to inquire about what, if any, research and disclosure your bank has conducted with regard to its, or any of its predecessor institutions’, involvement in the financing of chattel slavery in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote, according to an example letter addressed to banks that was included in the press release. 

The letter points to laws passed by some state and local legislatures, such as a 2002 Chicago measure, where financial institutions have been required to disclose whether they had ever profited from slavery.

“Such compelled disclosures revealed clear historical connections to slavery, in the form of lending capital for the purchase of slaves, accepting enslaved people as collateral for loans, taking ownership of enslaved people in events of default on said loans, providing insurance policies to holders of enslaved persons, and executing payment on those policies in events of injury, fatality, and even liberation of those enslaved persons,” the letter said. 

The sample letter for banks provided by the House Financial Services Committee asked the recipients provide written responses within two weeks to a number of questions and requests, including “copies of your bank’s original charter and bylaws,” whether the bank or its predecessor institutions had been involved in financing “sugar cane, tobacco, or cotton prior to December 6, 1865,” and the methods banks had used to evaluate their past connections to slavery. 

The letter also asked any recipient financial institutions that had not conducted any kind of audit related to slavery to explain why. 

Waters also reported sending similar letters to the top five property and casualty insurance companies, as well as the top five life insurance companies in the U.S. Those included Berkshire Hathaway, Liberty Mutual Group, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, MetLife, New York Life Insurance Company, Prudential Financial, State Farm Insurance, the Allstate Corporation, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, and the Progressive Corporation.

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