May 31, 2024
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Opinion: The hidden slave history underneath Wall Street


By John Grace

Juneteenth is the oldest-known celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States. President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. U.S. stock markets are closed in observance of Juneteenth on Monday, June 19.

Juneteenth 2023 marks 158 years since the end of chattel slavery in America on June 19, 1865, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

That’s when, two months after the Civil War ended in April 1865, a Union Army general told enslaved people in Galveston, Texas they were free.

As a Black American financial advisor for over 40 years, I appreciate the irony of being in a business known as Wall Street. It’s appropriate for more Americans to be aware of the hidden links between slavery and Wall Street.

While slavery was officially abolished in the U.S. in 1865, American finance grew on the back of slaves. In fact, enslaved people built the wall after which Wall Street is named.

Some of the largest insurance firms in the U.S., New York Life, AIG, and Aetna, sold policies that insured slave owners would be compensated if the slaves they owned were injured or killed. American banks accepted deposits from southern plantation owners and counted enslaved people as assets when assessing a person’s wealth.

In 2005, JP Morgan Chase, currently the biggest bank in the U.S., admitted that two of its subsidiaries, Citizens’ Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana, accepted enslaved people as collateral for loans. If plantation owners defaulted on loan payments the banks took ownership of these slaves, according to a 2019 article posted on the BBC website.

The predecessors of companies like Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo (via its acquisition of Wachovia) are among a list of well-known financial firms that benefited from the slave trade and have apologized for their role in supporting slavery.

In 1711, New York City officials decreed that “all Negro and Indian slaves that are let out to hire…be hired at the Market House at the Wall Street Slip,” according to Tiya Miles. The official slave trading spot built in 1653 flourished in 1711, and lasted until 1761, per The Street.

“American capitalism is brutal,” per The New York Times. Tiya Miles went on to opine, “Slavery helped turn America into a financial colossus. And our economy is still shaped by how slavery made Wall Street.” This national holiday is a perfect opportunity to reevaluate the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national portrait.

John Grace is a financial planner and president of Investor’s Advantage in Thousand Oaks.