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By Deborah Kong
SAN FRANCISCO – The California Department of Insurance on Wednesday released the names of companies that say they issued policies insuring the lives of slaves, a move activists say could bolster the case for reparations for descendants of slaves.
The insurance department's report named companies that provided records indicating they or their predecessors may have issued policies insuring the lives of slaves: Ace USA, Aetna, AIG, New York Life, Penn Mutual and Royal Sun & Alliance.
AIG, for example, submitted a magazine article that contained a "replica of a policy issued to a slaveholder in the amount of $550.00 on the life of one male slave known as 'Charles,'" according to the report.
Ace reported that it found a copy of a slave policy written in 1855 by Aetna Life insuring the life of a slave named Peter, identified as a laborer, and issued in Mississippi, according to the report.
A separate database compiled by the department included the names of several hundred slaves and slaveholders.
Activists said the report could build the case for reparations.
"Slaves were not considered human beings," said Marie Davis, president of the San Mateo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "They were considered as property."
The insurance department also found evidence the practice was not limited to Africans. Manhattan Life provided one policy that insured shippers of their cargo of 700 Chinese laborers on a journey from China in 1854, the report said.
The workers were valued at $120 each. After three of the "coolies" jumped overboard and 11 others died of disease, Manhattan Life paid $408, according to a 1961 speech made by the company's president, the report said.
California appears to be the first state to require insurance companies to submit data on slave policies they've issued, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
About 1,350 life, property and casualty insurance companies doing business in California were required to report to the insurance department under a law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2001. About 92 percent of the companies have responded, said Leslie Tick, the agency's senior staff counsel.
The companies had to report whether they or their predecessors issued insurance policies to slaveholders before 1865, providing coverage for damage to or death of slaves.
Although the companies were licensed to do business in California, the policies they or their predecessors wrote were issued elsewhere, Tick said.
"These companies, they made money from the enslavement of our foreparents, and our government was a participant in the process," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, adding that he plans to examine the report and confer with attorneys.
"I hope they move toward settlement, and redress the egregious crime against humanity of slavery, and their role in it," Jackson said.
In early April, three slave descendants filed suit against Aetna insurance company, FleetBoston Financial Corp. and railroad giant CSX on behalf of themselves and millions of other blacks, claiming the companies – or their corporate predecessors – unjustly profited from slavery.
Nicole Mahrt, spokeswoman for the western regional office of the American Insurance Association, said the group didn't have an immediate comment on the report, although anticipating its release, she said, "Slavery is certainly a scar on our country's history. It's difficult to go back and apply today's morality retroactively to yesterday's contracts. That's something the courts are going to have to struggle with, in separating the emotional and legal issues."
On the Net:
California Department of Insurance: www.insurance.ca.gov
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