Wednesday, June 20, 2018

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

4. The transatlantic slave trade resulted in the deaths of millions and eviscerated culture, language, and customs of the enslaved.

5. Millions of Africans and their descendants were enslaved in America from 1619 to 1865. Estimates range from 8,000,000 to over 100,000,000. The practice of slavery constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of African life, liberty, human rights and cultural heritage. Furthermore, it deprived them of the fruits of their own labor. The institution of slavery in the United States and its predecessor colonies consisted of the involuntary, lifelong hereditary system of chattel servitude.

6. The institution of slavery in the United States and its predecessor colonies consisted of the involuntary, lifelong hereditary system of chattel servitude.

7. The Dutch slave ship that sailed into Jamestown Harbor in Virginia colony in 1619 contained only 27 captive Africans, but by the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, more than two and a half centuries later, somewhere between 8 million and 50 million Africans had arrived in America in chains.

8. Historians estimate that one slave perished for every one who survived capture in the African interior and made it alive to the New World, meaning as many as 12 million perished along the way.

9. Not only did the institution of slavery result in the deaths of millions of Africans, it eviscerated whole cultures: languages, religions, mores, and customs. It psychologically destroyed its victims. It wrenched from them their history, their memories, their names and their families on a scale never previously, nor since, witnessed.

10. The institution of slavery expanded from Jamestown Harbor to twelve (12) more colonies. When these colonies secured their independence and established their own governments, they began to develop an elaborate set of repressive statutes to regulate the relationship between slaveholder and slave. These statutes were called “Slave Codes”.

 

A. State Slave Codes Sought to Legitimize Abuse, Subordinating and Exploiting Enslaved Persons, and Denying All Natural Liberties of Humankind.

11. States continued to regulate the relationship between slave and slaveholder by passing increasingly elaborate and abusive Slave Codes which covered every aspect of life of the enslaved African. Although the laws varied from one state to another, they all agreed on some general principles:

enslaved Africans are not people but property; laws should protect the ownership of such property and should protect white people against any dangers that might arise from being near large numbers of enslaved Africans; enslaved Africans must be maintained in a state of subordination in order that the optimum discipline and work could be achieved.

12. For instance, South Carolina Law set forth that enslaved Africans:

shall be deemed, held, taken, reputed, and adjudged in law to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.

13. Enslaved Africans could not: testify in court against a white person, make contracts, leave the plantation without permission, strike a white person (even in self-defense), buy and sell goods, own firearms, gather without a white person present, possess any anti-slavery literature, or visit the homes of whites or free blacks.

14. The killing of an enslaved person was almost never regarded as murder, and the rape of enslaved women was treated as a form of trespassing rather than a capital crime.

Enslaved African women had to endure sexual exploitation, often bearing the children of their masters and overseers. Enslaved Africans were disciplined by whipping, imprisonment, torture, and mutilation - sometimes leading to death - and being sold off.

 

B) Enslaved Africans Built Our Nation Yet All Were Denied the Basic Fruits of their Labor.

15. Although, it is a common perception that the South alone received the enslaved Africans, many of them arrived in ports throughout the North, including, the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam that later became New York City and parts of New Jersey. Integral to the colony from the start, slaves helped build Trinity Church, the streets of the city, including Broadway, and the wall, from which Wall Street takes its name, that protected the colony from military strikes.

16. Enslaved Africans in New York lived in attics, hallways and beneath porches, cheek to jowl with their master and mistresses. In death, many of these same Africans were banished to a separate burial ground, which lay a mile outside the contemporary city limits and contained thousands of bodies heaped one on top of another with little regard for the sanctity of their lives, even in death.

17. Research conducted by Howard University of 400 skeletons of buried slaves revealed that a significant portion were children under the age of 15 and the most common cause of death was malnutrition. The skeletons of the children revealed they had rickets, scurvy, anemia or related diseases. The adult skeletons show that many were simply worked to death. The highest mortality rate is found among women ages 15 to 20. Investigators have concluded that many slaves died of illnesses acquired in the holds of slave ships, from exposure to the cold, and from the trauma of being torn from their families and shipped in chains halfway around the globe. Researchers also concluded that defendants worked their slaves to death and then simply went out and bought new slaves with the proceeds from the insurance companies named herein.

18. On a more national scale, recent research has revealed that many of our esteemed and celebrated institutions of learning had their origins in the profits derived from the slave trade. For instance, money from the slave trade financed Yale University's first endowed professorship, its first endowed scholarships and its first endowed library fund. Moreover, in the 1830's, Yale officials led the opposition that prevented the building of the first African-American college, on the grounds that such an institution would have been “incompatible with the existence of Yale”. Nicholas and John Brown, two of the founders of what became Brown University were slave traders. Likewise, Harvard Law School was endowed by money its founder earned selling slaves in Antigua's cane fields.

19. Most early American industries were based on the cotton, sugar, rice, tobacco, and other products African labor produced. Railroads and shipping companies, the banking industry and many other businesses made huge profits from the commerce generated by the output of enslaved labor. The Defendants named herein profited monumentally as well from slavery and the slave trade.

20. Enslaved Africans built the U.S. Capitol, cast and hoisted the statue of freedom on top of its dome, and cleared the forest between the Capitol and the White House.

21. Slavery fueled the prosperity of young nation. From 1790 to 1860 alone, the U.S. economy and corporate America reaped the benefits of as much as $40 million in unpaid labor. Some estimate the current value of this unpaid labor at 1.4 trillion dollars.\

 

C. State and Federal Government Outlaw the Trade from 1807-Forward

22. As early as 1799, many individual states outlawed the slave trade, years before the federal government abolished it.

23. In 1794, the Third U.S. Congress enacted a law barring the building or equipping of vessels fitted for the “carrying on of the slave trade.” As part of that law, Congress required forfeiture and payment of $20,000 by “all and every person, so building, fitting out, equipping, loading, or otherwise preparing, or sending away, any ship or vessel, knowing or intending that the same shall be employed in such trade or business ...or any ways aiding or abetting therein.”

24. In 1800, the US Congress made it unlawful for any U.S. citizen or resident “directly or indirectly: to have any interest in a slave-trade vessel, and granted jurisdiction to the federal courts to handle violations of the law.”

25. In 1807, the United States enacted a law prohibiting the importation of slaves and required forfeiture and payment of $20,000 by persons who aided or abetted in the “building, fitting out, equipping, loading, or otherwise preparing or sending away” of vessels intended for the importation of slaves.

26. In 1820, Congress determined that the slave trade was so repugnant that perpetrators as well as their aiders and abettors should be subject to the death penalty and the slave trade should be formally equated to the international crime of piracy. Although, the slave trade was formally abolished by England in 1807 and by the United States in 1808, individuals, industries and the government, wholly dependent upon the economic benefits derived from the use of unpaid labor, continued to keep the trade alive by aiding and abetting in the illegal smuggling of enslaved Africans and by aiding and abetting in the institution of “breeding” enslaved Africans. Breeding continued since every child born enslaved, bore a capital value to its owner that far exceeded the cost to raise the enslaved child.

 

D. A Body of Law Develops Finding Slavery a Breach of Established and Fundamental Natural Law of Man.

27. As states abolished the slave trade before the federal government did, so too, did both state and federal courts create a body of common law finding slavery a violation of the natural law of man. As early as 1781, in one of the famous Quark Walker cases, Commonwealth v. Jennison, Chief Justice William Cushing of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts charged his jury as to the natural law against slavery:

whatever usage formally prevailed or slid in upon as by the examples of others on the subject, they can no longer exist... sentiments more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that innate desire for liberty which heaven, without regard to complexion or shape, has planted in the human breast -- have prevailed since the glorious struggle for our rights [the Revolution] began ... slavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence. (emphasis added).

28. Several years later in 1789 in a First Circuit case, Justice Joseph Story in the La Jeune Eugenie case, concluded that the international slave trade violated the natural law of man in that it was:

repugnant to the great principles of Christian duty, the dictates of natural religion, the obligation of good faith and morality, and the eternal maxims of social justice [and]... was inconsistent with any system of law that purports to rest on the authority of reason or revelation. And it is sufficient to stamp any trade as interdicted by public law, when it can be justly affirmed that it is repugnant to the general principles of justice and humanity.

29. Moreover, in Anderson v. Poindexter, 6 Ohio St. 623 (1857), the Ohio Supreme Court held that a slave coming into a free jurisdiction (with the consent of the master) for a temporary sojourn was automatically freed because slavery was repugnant to reason and the principles of natural law.

30. In fact, current-day legal scholars continue to write extensively about slavery always having been contrary to fundamental laws of our nation and the world. One Justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, wrote in 1987 about a “higher law” that condemns inequality and hence, slavery. Thomas argues the “original intent” of the Constitution must follow the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, which should be read as hostile to slavery in order to conform with the “higher” principals of our nation that rest on natural law:Paine captured well the revolutionary meaning of basing a particular nation on a universal truth, the truth of human equality. Edwin S. Corwin described this many years ago as the “higher law background' of the Constitution. And Martin Luther King, Jr. brought out the contemporary significance of “higher law' well in his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail. Paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, King declared, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God ... An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.'

31. Like Justice Thomas' argument, that slavery has to be legally interpreted as against the specific intent of the Founding Fathers, Professor Hylton asserts, in 2003, that slavery cannot be viewed as an institution sanctioned by law, but rather, “as a corruption or displacement of law”:We have to reject the notion that anything we would wish to call law would ever sanction such an institution. For the institution is founded on the absence of law.

Law and slavery are, in essence, “universal complements,' in the sense that one can exist in the space where the other is absent. Hence, the only morally consistent position that a state can take with respect to slavery is that it never cohabited with the institution.

32. Although the institution of slavery in the United States was officially outlawed in 1865, the smuggling of enslaved African slaves continued, de facto, beyond the 1950's. National archive records reveal that in the 1920's and 1930's, the NAACP received letters from African-Americans claiming to still be on plantations and forced to work without pay. Several claims were investigated and were found to be legitimate. Moreover, as late as 1954, the Justice Department prosecuted the Dial brothers in Sumpter County, Alabama because they held blacks in involuntary servitude. A vivid example of this phenomenon is presented in greater detail herein with the 104 year old Louisiana plaintiff, Cain Wall, who was a former slave who did not learn of his emancipation until years afterwards and was subjected to horrendous abuse, intentionally designed to intimidate him from exercising his rights as a free man.

33. Measures called “Black Codes” guaranteed continued control of Blacks by white employers. As John Hope Franklin noted in From Slavery to Freedom:

the control of blacks by white employers was about as great as that which slaveholders had exercised. Blacks who quit their job could be arrested and imprisoned for breach of contract. They were not allowed to testify in court except in cases involving members of their own race; numerous fines were imposed for seditious speeches, insulting gestures or acts, absence from work, violating curfews and the possession of firearms. There was of course no enfranchisement of blacks and no indication that in the future they could look forward to full citizenship and participation in democracy.

34. Ten of eleven former confederate states instituted these “Black Codes” which were nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent emancipation. Illegal contracts for labor were signed by the uneducated formerly enslaved with unconscionable provisions purposely designed to continue a system of unpaid servitude. The Codes, and other practices that developed that were specifically designed to subvert emancipation, were the result of a callous and intentional collaboration between the landed elite, the police (state) and commercial merchants in order to perpetuate a ready pool of landless, impoverished, and dependent workers.

35. The post-Reconstruction practices of peonage and sharecropping which continued well into the twentieth century were direct outgrowths of slavery that continued a system of complete control by the dominant culture. Peonage was a complex system where a black man would be arrested for “vagrancy”, ordered to pay a fine that he could not afford, and then incarcerated. A plantation owner or other white citizen or business owner would pay the fine and then hire the indebted prisoner until he could afford to pay off the fine. The peon was forced to work, locked up at night and if he escaped, was chased by bloodhounds until recaptured.

36. Likewise, from 1865 through the period well into early mid-1900's, African-Americans became sharecroppers on land leased from whites whose grandparents had owned their ancestors. These African-Americans were not allowed to vote, and were socially and economically relegated to the leftovers in education, earnings, and freedoms.

37. The commercial industries continued to knowingly benefit from these illegally constituted, but state-sanctioned, forms of slavery.

38. In fact, the long and continued resistance of the South to emancipation led to the stubborn and entrenched belief that white Southerners did not have to pay African-Americans for their labor. This led to a “dual ethic”, a code of treating white people according to a different standard as compared to black people.

39. Thus, even after Emancipation, the lives of African-Americans remained locked in quasiservitude, due to legal, economic and psychological restraints that effectively blocked their economic, political and social advancement.

40. Also, during this period, terror was used as a tool to keep African-Americans tied to their former masters. The wholesale murder and terrorization of African-Americans continued with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other like organizations. Over 3,400 African-Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1930. During this period and beyond, Plaintiffs were prevented from accessing the courts to seek relief committed against them.

 

E. Legacy of Slavery: Racism and Traceable Disparities in Education Health Care, Housing, Economic Net Worth, Infant Mortality Rate, Literacy, Etc.

41. When the actual institution of slavery was finally formally ended years of Defendants physically, psychologically, culturally and economically harming the African slaves, the Defendants continued to harm the Plaintiffs by continuing to withhold the fruits of the labor, the property of the slaves and prevented same from passing down to Plaintiffs, thus impoverishing them. Defendants continued to deprived Plaintiffs access to work on the basis of race. Defendants actions caused Plaintiffs economic losses and cultural psychic scars and heretofore without remedy. It left all Americans with ingrained beliefs of the superiority of the Caucasian population which insured that inequality would continue as it has through to the present day in the form of racism.

42. Slavery is and has always been by definition a crime against humanity. There has never been a legitimate justification for the economic and social subjugation of one person to another.

43. Defendants enslavement of Plaintiffs' ancestors in the United States was the most obscene and extreme example of the practice of slavery given that the economically interdependent conspiracy was so complete that these unjust profits were garnered at every level of the market. The defendants in this case and/or their predecessors in interest knowingly participated, profited and/or aided and abetted in the institution of slavery through any number of mechanisms as more fully alleged within this Complaint.

44. While it is clear that the Africans and African-Americans who were enslaved were enslaved against their will and robbed of all their rights to include their “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” these individuals were not privy to every legal harm they suffered, nor the causes and extent of those harms.

45. It is equally clear that the plaintiffs were in large part uneducated, unsophisticated and in most cases subjected to extraordinary circumstances at all times from their forced capture in Africa through until their deaths whether they occurred in captivity in Africa, on the perilous voyage to the U.S. or in captivity in the U.S. This period of extraordinary circumstances began with the beginning of the institution of slavery in the U.S., through the official period of government condoned slavery, after the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ostensibly abolishing slavery through to the present day as African-Americans continually suffer social and financial deprivation as a direct result of the entrenched social disparity of treatment for African-Americans established in slavery which existed almost twice as long as it has been officially outlawed.

46. The extraordinary circumstances include but are not limited to the following: continued slavery after 1865 through to the 1960's, “separate but equal”, Jim Crow, KKK, peonage and the consistently demonstrated disparity of the African-American experience under any of the social and financial measures. The great majority, if not all slaves, former slaves and descendants of slaves, who had and have been subjugated for centuries and for many generations, had no knowledge, or ability to obtain knowledge, of the harms caused by the defendants' actions alleged in this complaint. The plaintiffs and their ancestors had no, and should not be held to have, omniscient knowledge of their rights, the violations they suffered, those that were the cause of and those that illegally profited from those violations.

47. The information related to the extent, nature and cause of the harms alleged within this complaint was and is uniquely within the possession and control of the named defendants in this case or their predecessors and other privately held corporations and businesses. This information includes, but is not limited to, business relationships, contracts for goods and services, manifests, business ventures, annual reports, slave holdings, shipping records, etc. The vast majority of this information and documentation has never been available to or accessible by the public. With the recent advent of the Internet and other research tools, a few talented or privileged individuals have accessed some of the documentation leading to information about the extent, nature and cause of the harms suffered.

48. As an example of the difficulty of gaining access to the documentation and cooperation from the corporations, efforts merely toward the gathering and study of information related to slavery and its effects for African-Americans and American society in Congress have been thwarted for years. Specifically, Representative John Conyers from Michigan has for the last 12 years proposed Resolution No. 40 seeking to set aside $8 million dollars to study the effects of slavery and come up with a formula for reparations. His resolution has died in committee for each of these past eleven years. The opposition to this effort is at least in part clearly from corporate America as there has been no corporation, to include the named defendants in this action, which have gone on record as either supporting Rep. Conyers's resolution or voluntarily disclosing their documentation and knowledge of their connections with slavery.

49. The period following slavery rather than being a period of flourishing for Africans and African-Americans was simply another period of subjugation with Jim Crow laws and other forms of segregation. This period made it all the more difficult, unlikely, if not impossible for the plaintiffs to gain access to information, which would have put them on notice, inquiry or otherwise, of the violations of their rights as asserted within this Complaint.

50. The named defendants and/or their predecessor entities engaged in one or more of the following actions against the interests of the plaintiffs and their ancestors: slave business dealings which were self-concealing, denials of any profits from slavery and/or denials to the public for access to, or accountings of, documented slavery dealings and profits from same.

51. The nature of the complained of business dealings by the defendants, as discussed in more detail in those portions of this Complaint, establishes that they were self-concealing from the enslaved African and African-Americans and by direct extension their descendents. For example, there is no reason for the slaves to know or be aware that their lives were insured; that financing deals controlled their lives; or that profits far a field from their miserable daily, if not hourly, existence occurred.

52. A number of the defendants have also over the years specifically and falsely denied having any connection to slavery.

53. The defendants have also fraudulently concealed the facts supporting the plaintiffs' plead causes of action within this complaint from the heirs or the estates of the slaves and former slaves harmed by the defendants' participation in slavery. No defendant had disclosed any facts before two years prior to the filing of these suits which would provide the plaintiffs with notice of any facts of the cause of action as plead within this complaint.

54. Despite efforts, the plaintiffs have been unable to secure records from a number of the defendants with regards to their ancestors due to the failure of most, if not all, to be able to reliably access documents establishing business relationships, ventures and dealings, contracts, shipping manifests, human cargo lists that may directly connect the plaintiffs with their slave ancestors and their free ancestors. The lists should provide more connections than not having this information, obviously. However, even this information will not provide an easy answer as further efforts were employed to destroy access to information and causation such as the changing of names at most, if not all, stages of the slave trade to include the original kidnapping and Trans-Atlantic journey, all sales and resales, sales of children and their children's children thus making it nearly impossible to accurately trace records.

56. Recent advances in Internet and computer databases have made some of these records more accessible.

57. Likewise, corporate histories and records have also been extremely difficult and inaccessible to most people. Hence, research tracing the monetary benefit derived by a few American corporations from the slave trade has only been partially accessible and discussed by prominent researchers within the last year.

58. The defendants have failed to provide an accounting to the plaintiffs generally at any time in the past and specifically, in the last two years prior to the filing of these suits when requests for such information were made to a number of the defendants.

59. The Defendants were unjustly enriched by the labor of plaintiffs' ancestors and the defendants actively concealed evidence of this participation in slavery and their conduct was instrumental in keeping plaintiffs from obtaining the knowledge necessary to be aware of or on notice of the harms they suffered as a direct result of defendants' conduct.

 

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