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US Lawsuit Alleges Slavery Profits - 2002-03-26

A lawsuit filed in U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York Tuesday, accuses three U.S. corporations of profiting from slavery prior to the end of the U.S. Civil War. The war, which ended in 1865 legally banned slavery. The lawsuit is asking for unspecified damages and restitution for the descendants of slaves.

The nation's largest health insurer, Aetna, financial services giant Fleet, and railroad company CSX are named as defendants in the groundbreaking lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by a legal researcher, Deadria Farmer-Paellman, who allegedly has documented links between the companies and slavery. The lawsuit asks for a share of corporate profits derived from slavery.

Ms. Paellman's suit also asks that a jury hear claims on behalf of all African-Americans who can show that their ancestors were slaves. Most of the nation's almost 40 million African-Americans trace their ancestry to slaves who were brought to the United States from Africa to work on cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations.

Aetna has expressed "deep regret" for extending life insurance policies on slaves that named their owners as beneficiaries. The company says it has pumped more than $34 million in the African-American community over the past 20 years.

The founder of Fleet Bank's earliest predecessor was a slave trader. CSX, which owns rail lines that were built by slaves, says there is "no legal basis" for the lawsuit.

Lawyers representing Ms. Paellman are expected to send letters to more than one dozen other companies and trade groups representing industries that used slaves, such as the tobacco and shipping industries. The letters call on the companies to establish an historical commission to investigate slavery and set up a fund to improve health and education in the African American community. Otherwise, they too will be sued.