Blacks Deserve '200 Years of Free Education,' Activist Says

Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT
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( - A group of activists on Monday announced plans to boycott some of the nation's largest banks for their alleged roles in the 19th century slave trade. The activists are demanding that the banks spend hundreds of millions of dollars on reparations and provide the descendants of slaves 200 years of free higher education.

The Restitution Study Group is urging students to boycott student loans offered by JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia, Bank One and Bank of America until those banks create a "humanitarian trust fund ... to heal the injuries slave descendants suffer from today as a result of slavery," according to the group's release.

The group was founded in 2000 by Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, who said that companies like JP Morgan Chase and insurance provider Aetna were responsible for "urban poverty, inadequate healthcare, and lost housing." The corporations were also guilty of having "amassed enormous wealth off the backs of enslaved Africans," according to Farmer-Paellmann.

Some of the banks targeted for the boycott have already addressed their historical connections to slavery. In June, Wachovia announced that two of its predecessor banks owned a total of approximately 700 slaves, most who were acquired as collateral. The corporation apologized and in July announced plans to invest $10 million in "community partnerships," including scholarships and subsidies to minority-owned businesses.

In January, Bank One, which is a subsidiary of JP Morgan, acknowledged that two of its predecessor banks were lenders to plantations in the 1800s. According to spokesman Tom Kelly, the two banks later merged and failed during the depression. The company has since apologized and established a $5 million scholarship for African American students in Louisiana, where the banks operated.

But Farmer-Paellmann said the banks' efforts are "insulting" and that corporations "owe far greater than $10 million for playing a role in the destruction of a people.

"We know from the Holocaust settlements that $250 million a company was a reasonable amount," she said, "and we're talking about [the Holocaust being] a much shorter period of suffering, a much shorter genocidal period."

Farmer-Paellmann told Cybercast News Service that she has $100,000 in student loans and asked, "Why should I have to pay $100,000 for my education in a country that deprived my ancestors of an education?"

Farmer-Paellmann holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the City University of New York, a master's degree in lobbying and political campaign management from the George Washington University and a Juris Doctorate from the New England School of Law (NESL), according to her alumni biography on the NESL website.

"We should not have to pay for our education anyways," she said. "We should get full scholarships. These banks that denied us our legacy, our inheritance, should pay for our education. We shouldn't have to pay anywhere."

Farmer-Paellmann said that because Africans were enslaved for 200 years, banks should "at least give the descendents 200 years of free education in exchange."

Kelly said he didn't know why the Restitution Study Group planned the boycott after the banks admitted guilt and established funds to help African Americans. "Apparently they want the reparation suit reinstated," he said, referring to the lawsuit Farmer-Paellmann filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago in 2002. Judge Charles Norgle dismissed the lawsuit in July.

"We think that student loans are an excellent product to help students from all backgrounds achieve their higher education goals," Kelly said, adding that he thinks it is counterproductive to discourage students from applying for student loans that could help them go to college.

Bank of America in August announced that its own internal investigation did not discover any direct connections between the bank's predecessors and slavery. It did recognize that two customers had listed slaves as collateral but said the debts were paid off without the bank ever owning slaves.

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