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Restoring the Debt: Descendents of Slaves File for Reparations From US Corporations That Profited From Slavery

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Here on Democracy Now, we have consistently reported on the US companies that drew profits from the slave trade. Aetna, Inc., the nation’s largest health insurer, sold policies in the 1850s reimbursing slave owners for financial losses when their slaves died. The CSX rail company used slaves to build their tracks. And FleetBoston financial services company grew out of Providence bank, which was founded by known slave trader John Brown, the namesake of Brown University. John Brown was prosecuted in federal court for participating in the international slave trade after it became illegal under federal law.

Well, some descendents of slaves have decided to take history in their own hands, and rectify some of the financial injustices of slavery. On Tuesday, a group of African American descendents of slaves filed the first-ever class action suit on behalf of the estimated 35 million descendants of US slaves. Their historic move marks the first time ever that companies have been accused in federal court of being “unjustly enriched” by the slave trade.

Today we are going to talk about the responsibilities of these and other corporations that profited from slavery. We are going to take a look at the example of Holocaust legal cases, which have won millions of dollars for Jews in America.

Democracy Now asked Aetna, FleetBoston, and CSX to come on the program, but all three of the companies said they were not giving interviews about reparations. However, a spokesperson for CSX corporation, which is a Fortune 500 transportation company, agreed to give a statement from the company in response to the lawsuit filed seeking financial reparations.


  • Kathleen Burns, spokesperson for CSX corporation, a Fortune 500 transportation company.
  • Fred Leberge, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations at Aetna. This is an interview from March 14, 2000. According to Leberge, Aetna is no longer giving interviews on this issue.
  • Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, New York law grad. One of four plaintiffs filing a suit in federal court in Brooklyn against U.S. corporations that drew profits from the slave trade.
  • Roger Wareham, lawyer for the plaintiffs, human rights attorney, and a member of the December 12th Movement International. Email:
  • Norman Finkelstein, author of four books including ??The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000). The son of two Holocaust survivors, he currently teaches at DuPaul University in Chicago.

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