On Dec. 13, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld fraud claims brought by African Americans against 15 major U.S. banks, insurers and transportation companies that concealed their slave trading histories from consumers.

In a 17-page opinion, Judge Richard Posner said that a company that hides its slave trading history because it is


Lead plaintiff Deadria Farmer-Paellman at a press conference responding to the court ruling on her reparations case, New York City, Dec. 14.

worried about losing customers is “guilty of fraud.” This claim was the only claim that survived the court’s opinion.

Despite clear evidence that modern American capitalism could not be what it is today without slavery, the court opined that descendents of slaves have no legal standing to receive compensation. The ruling said that because of the statute of limitations and the “weak” link between the plaintiffs and their slave ancestors, the case was not valid. This portion of the court’s ruling is shortsighted and racist to the core.

But the fact that the court upheld the plaintiffs’ consumer fraud claim is a modest, yet important legal victory for the reparations movement. It may seem insignificant, but any legal acknowledgement of the massive debt to African Americans can only help the overall struggle for reparations and equality.

“We applaud this historic reparations victory that has taken over 141 years to achieve,” said Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the lead plaintiff in the case and executive director of the Restitution Study Group. “We want the world to understand that this is not just about the institution of slavery,” she stated, speaking at a press conference in New York City on Dec. 14, the day after the decision.

Farmer-Paellmann continued, “This is about people such as James Moody, an enslaved African who was forced to work in toxic coal pits, insured by New York Life Insurance Company—people who were never paid for their labor which helped make the defendants in these cases multi-billion and trillion dollar entities.”

“This is a very significant case,” said Bruce Afran, Farmer-Paellmann’s attorney. “This is the first time that a reparations case has had a victory, and it will be the beginning of others. Just like the tobacco cases began with losses and slowly began gaining wind, the reparations movement will now gather steam in the courts and gain victories.”   

Imperative to achieve equality

The issue of reparations goes far beyond capitalist laws and courts. It is a key aspect of the struggle to achieve equality for the Black population in America.

At least 12 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly taken to the Americas as slaves. The capitalist economic system in the United States was built largely on the backs of slave labor.

Major banks and corporations that participated in the genocidal slave trade still exist in some form today. They reaped enormous profits from engaging in this inhuman practice. Corporations like CSX, Fleet Boston, Aetna, and JP Morgan Chase all were started with profits reaped from exploiting slave labor.

CSX is the present permutation of a company that used slave labor to lay railroad tracks. Fleet Boston—now incorporated into Bank of America—is a bank that was founded by a slave trader.

Aetna and JP Morgan Chase made millions insuring slaves as the property of their masters. Universities like Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Virginia also profited from slave labor.

It is not only specific companies or schools that owe reparations; the U.S. government must pay as well. Slave labor built the White House. The so-called “founding fathers” of America owned slaves.

For nearly 100 years, the U.S. government and their capitalist partners reaped massive profits dripping with the blood of African slaves.

While some companies and organizations have expressed some willingness to remunerate Black people in different ways—JP Morgan started a five million dollar scholarship fund for African Americans—most have refused to acknowledge their liability for reaping benefits from the slave system.

It is absolutely necessary that the Black community be compensated fully, with interest, for the historical racism and wrongs forced upon them by capitalist America.

However, since the true amount owed by different companies and institutions is likely to be a significant portion of their current resources, and because they still seek to make profits in any way they can, capitalist resistance is inevitable.

Workers of all nationalities should support and fight for the just demand of reparations for the Black community. Reparations would not hurt workers one bit.

The goal of the reparations movement has never been to take money from individuals, but to restore to Black people the wealth stolen from them by corporations, institutions and the government.

If corporations and the U.S. government are forced to compensate fully African Americans, the working class as a whole will score an important victory in the struggle for a better world. Demanding reparations will help build much-needed working-class unity in the face of racist capitalism.

At the conclusion of the Dec. 14 press conference, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann said, “This is my pledge to Aetna, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and all the other defendants in this case. You and your shareholders will never be free from the demand for reparations until you pay the debt.”

The wealth that built the United States and started these corporations and many more must be accounted for before there can be justice.