Forest City Ratner’s announcement of the naming rights to the Atlantic Yards Nets Arena to England’s Barclays Bank has ignited a controversy about Barclay’s slave trade business and apartheid-supporting past.
Councilwoman Letitia James’ office released a statement saying that Ratner was partnering with a corporation founded on the slave trade. Former assemblyman Roger Green, a previous supporter of the Atlantic Yards deal, has called for Barclays to pay reparations to the African-American community in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Paper reported his successor, Hakeem Jeffries, as saying the “naming agreement was insensitive and offensive.” And that “Ratner should consider ‘terminating’ his $400 million dollar deal.”
But on the issue of apartheid, Barclays is only one of the major corporations named in a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Khulumani Victim Support Group (a group of victims of past political violence in South Africa) filed in the New York Eastern District Court. Among the other multinationals named were the U.S.-based corporations Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Exxon Mobil, Fluor Corporation, Ford, General Motors and IBM.
On the issue of profiting from the slave trade, Barclays certainly doesn’t stand alone either, and certainly not in Brooklyn with Chase Bank as a neighbor and admitted slave profiteer.
Based on research undertaken by Chase itself in order to comply with Chicago legislation, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that “Thousands of slaves were accepted as collateral for loans by two banks that later became part of JP Morgan Chase. The admission is part of an apology sent to the JP Morgan staff after the bank researched its links to slavery in order to meet legislation in Chicago. About 13,000 slaves were used as loan collateral between 1831 and 1865. Citizens Bank and Canal Bank are the two lenders that were identified. They are now closed, but were linked to Bank One, which JP Morgan bought last year.” Chase has issued an apology to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played. They have also set up a $5 million scholarship for students living in Louisiana, the state where the events took place.
The reprint of the 1998 Our Time Press article “Stolen Land, Stolen Labor and the Case for Reparations,” makes clear why only a comprehensive reparations program can begin to address the slave trade’s profiteers on both sides of the Atlantic.