Slave Reparations Case Gains Legal Ground!
by Amadi Ajamu

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has revitalized the reparations class action lawsuit against U.S. corporations who participated in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. Significant parts of the previously dismissed landmark case have been reversed and remanded back to the District Court on the grounds of the defendants’ violation of consumer fraud statutes. Corporate defendants include J.P. Morgan Chase, Fleet Bank (now Bank of America), Aetna, Brown Brothers Harriman, Union Pacific Railroad, and New York Life.

“Surely without intending to do so, the 7th Circuit has demonstrated the importance which the mass movement for reparations in the streets plays in the judicial arena,” said plaintiff attorney Roger Wareham. “It was the Black community’s active demand for reparations and accountability for slavery which led to the passage of corporate disclosure legislation around the country. These disclosures of hitherto concealed dirty secrets of their past will establish defendants liability in these cases. We hope that this decision will spur the New York City council to catch up with Chicago, Philadelphia, California and other venues around the country and finally pass the corporate disclosure and reparations legislation which have shamefully sat in committee for over four years.”

Pleased with the “victory”, Bruce Afran, an attorney for leading plaintiff, Deadria Farmer-Paellman, expounded on the legal magnitude of the opinion issued by Chief Judge Easterbrook and Circuit Judges Posner and Manion on Wednesday. “District Judge Norgle threw out all of the claims in this case, but the court of appeals reversed him on the fraud claims brought against banks, insurance companies, and transportation companies for their deceptions about their corporate histories in the slave trade.”

Quoting Judge Posner’s contribution to the opinion Afran continued “he said that a seller of goods who conceals his company’s slave trading history because he’s afraid of losing customers is guilty of fraud. The words ‘guilty of fraud’ are written in the opinion. That’s more than we asked from the court of appeals.”

The arduous road to reparations has finally gained a remarkable and historic victory which Roger Wareham attributes to a mass movement, “The United States of America was built upon the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the free labor of enslaved Africans.
Racism was the ideological foundation used to justify this crime against humanity.”

He concluded, “Racism, as the execution of Sean Bell (an unarmed Black man recently killed by New York City police) proves once again, continues today. The effects of and the damage caused by slavery to the descendants of enslaved Africans continue today. The justified anger of, resentment of and resistance by the descendants of enslaved Africans, the victims of racism today, will not go away without there being redress for those past wrongs. We as lawyers will continue to fight in the courts. We know the people will keep fighting in the streets. We are confident that we will win.”