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U.S. descendants of slaves file lawsuits seeking reparations

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  • lilsteve68@aol.com
    U.S. descendants of slaves file lawsuits seeking reparations By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press Writer NEW ORLEANS - About 200 Louisiana residents identifying
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2002

      U.S. descendants of slaves file lawsuits seeking reparations
      By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press Writer

      NEW ORLEANS - About 200 Louisiana residents identifying themselves as descendants of slaves filed a federal lawsuit seeking reparations from companies that allegedly profited from slave labor.

      The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, was one of several that plaintiffs said were being filed around the country Tuesday — part of an effort that began with a lawsuit filed March 26 in New York City. The original New York lawsuit seeks reparations from Aetna Insurance, CSX Railroad and FleetBoston financial services. Tuesday was the deadline for similar lawsuits against the defendants named in March, said Raymond Johnson, one of the plantiffs' lawyers. Tuesday's lawsuits, which seek unspecified damages, added to the list of plaintiffs seeking reparations from those companies and added new companies to the list of defendants. New defendants in the Louisiana lawsuit included Lloyds of London; Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.; R.J. Reynolds; Liggett Group; Brown and Williamson; and three railroads, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific

      Johnson filed the lawsuit shortly before the close of business. Only Canadian National immediately responded to phone messages seeking comment. "Any reparations suit against CN is wholly without merit and CN will defend itself vigorously," said spokesman Jack Burke in Chicago. "Neither CN nor Illinois Central, which was acquired by CN in 1999, ever employed slave labor. In fact, Illinois Central was at the forefront of the war against slavery during the Civil War and played a central role in rebuilding the U.S. South." In addition to Louisiana, new lawsuits were to be filed in federal courts in Illinois, Texas, New York and California, according to Roger Wareham, one of the plantiffs' lawyers.

      Those filing suit say slave descendants deserve monetary compensation, even if only in the form of trust funds to improve health care, education and housing opportunities, because slaves were prevented from accumulating wealth to bequeath to future generations. The money slaves should have earned for their work instead went to companies that directly or indirectly profited from slave labor, they say, while slaves and their descendants lagged behind the rest of America in terms of education and opportunity.

      "The crime and poverty that African Americans live in today is part of the aftermath of slavery," said Antoinette Harrell-Miller, a plaintiff and genealogist. The lawsuits allege, for example, that certain insurance companies are liable because they sold insurance coverage for plantation owners' slaves and for slave cargo on ships. Some lending companies, the lawsuits allege, gave loans to white farmers who stated in their loan applications they intended to use the money to buy slaves. Railroad companies benefited from the use of rail lines built in part by slaves, Johnson said. Johnson said more plaintiffs and defendants may be added. Those who want to be added as plaintiffs likely will have to be able to prove they descended from slaves, he said. Several of the plaintiffs who showed up for the filing of the lawsuit wore shirts that promoted reparations through genealogy.

      Barbara Ballard Leonard, a 64-year-old retired high school teacher, said doing such research is difficult for blacks logistically and emotionally. "How do you think it makes me feel when to find my great grandparents I have to look at a list of some plantation owners cows, horses and other livestock," she said. The lawsuit also lists as defendants "unknown" companies that may have profited from slave labor in industries such as sugar cane or tobacco farming, textile production, lending, insurance and shipping.

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