Post Spins History to Attack Business
Reparations story calls slavery a “crime”
and fails to remind readers that it really wasn’t.
By Dan Gainor
June 20, 2005
The Washington Post used its June 20, 2005, front page to
criticize standard bank loans and business practices 140 years old.
The article detailed the efforts of businesses to cope with the idea
of reparations for the descendants of former African-American
The story by Daniel Fears, entitled “Seeking More Than Apologies for
Slavery,” showed the struggle of reparations advocates to make
companies like Wachovia and Aetna pay for entirely legal actions
from the 1700s and 1800s.
Fears delivered a pro-activist position and blamed Aetna for a
“crime,” even though slavery was legal – a point never made in the
Several reparations advocates were quoted in the story, but the only
historical view included was from Charles Ogletree, “a Harvard
University law professor and reparations activist.” Although much of
the story focused on the legal aspects of bringing reparations
claims, no other law professor was included who could comment on the
legality of forcing companies to pay for legal actions. The article
included an estimate of the value of the slave labor at $40 million
or $1 trillion today. No similar estimate was given about the cost
of the Civil War that ended slavery.
Much of the article focused around business apologies for any
involvement in the legal slave trade and a new series of laws that
are being used to force companies to dig hundreds of years into
their corporate history to reveal entirely legal activities.
However, as Fears put it, Wachovia apologized “after a study found
that his company had purchased two banks that exploited slaves.”
Part of that exploitation, according to Fears, was simply to use
slaves as collateral on loans at a bank Wachovia only later
Fears also left out most of the inherent problems with the
reparations movement. According to a Dec. 9, 2002, article by Yale
University law Professor Peter Schuck, these include:
- How to define who would receive reparations, whether that
would only include actual descendants of slaves, and how that
would be proven.
- Would beneficiaries have to show they were harmed by slavery?
- Who would pay if reparations are decided upon?
The crime in Fears’ story was blaming businesses for legal
activities undertaken more than seven generations ago.