Apology…Rejected! (Part Four)

By The Sports MCs
Updated: August 15, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — When Wachovia Bank CEO G. Kenneth Thompson admitted on June 1, 2005, that the company and its institutions had been involved in the African slave trade, it opened the floodgates of a national debate and reignited the movement for reparations.

When the company announced shortly thereafter it would not consider the issue of reparations, incensed African Americans began a mobilization effort to hold Wachovia to task for its role in slavery…

Prior to the increasingly stale – dated “apology” for slavery, more and more American cities–”particularly those with African American administrators” are demanding companies doing business with them redress the issue of slavery and reparations.

Under an amendment to Section 17-104 of the Philadelphia Code, entitled Prerequisites for the Execution of City Contracts, also known as Bill # 050615 and authored by Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr., any financial entity that does business with the City of Philadelphia must make a full financial disclosure of profits it garnered during the slave trade.

It must also provide the City with a statement of financial reparations and address the issue of racial disparities in lending and investment. The City of Chicago recently passed a similar ordinance. Wachovia is the depositor for $500 million of the City of Philadelphia’s hard- earned dollars.

The company, however, has a different idea about the issue. “Wachovia is not in the reparations business,” said Vikram Dewan, Wachovia Regional President for Philadelphia and Delaware’s general banking group in an interview discussing reparations and investment.

Dewan and Barbara Nate, a Wachovia publicist, said the company is engaged in activities that will address disparities in lending and investment in communities of color.

They cited initiatives such as their partnership with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and neighborhood transition. On July 28, 2005, Wachovia announced it had initiated a $10 million “national partnership in support of African Americans. While the announcement indicated acknowledgement of the past, no mention of corrective fair lending practices manifested itself during an interview with Wachovia officials.

Ari Merretazon, the co-chairman of the Case Against Wachovia Committee, for N’COBRA, the acronym for the National Coalition for Reparations for Blacks in America, said Wachovia should be held accountable for its involvement in the slave trade. He called Philadelphia the epicenter of the reparations battle.

While N’COBRA applauded Wachovia’s admission of its role in the slave trade and gave the company further kudos for its willingness to work with African American community organizations, Merretazon said there is a need for an additional historical study and a dialogue on reparations. “[Wachovia] financed the American Revolution by financing slavery,” said Merretazon. “The Bank of North America, which was the first financial institution in the United States and the predecessor of Wachovia, was the enabling bank.”

Wachovia commissioned the History Factory, a collection of experts that document pivotal American historical events, to look at 400 institutions with historical ties to Wachovia.

Based on various eliminating criteria, the focus was whittled down to 19 of its predecessor institutions dating back to 1781. These nineteen were chosen because of their specific and direct links to what would eventually become today’s Wachovia.

According to a letter sent to William Gamble, Commissioner for the City of Philadelphia’s Procurement Department, by Wachovia, the company disclosed that two of its predecessor institutions, the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company and the Bank of Charleston, did own slaves.

This admission, Goode’s letter said, put Wachovia in compliance with Bill # 050615. It is unclear whether any of the other 17 predecessor institutions actually owned slaves.

“When we initially engaged Wachovia in dialogue, we understood Wachovia would take the position that they would not pay reparations,” said Merretazon. They called it a Ëœhistorical happenstance,” but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility to remove the vestiges of slavery.

“Our people shouldn’t be expected to help them make money while the original exploitation goes unaddressed,” Merretazon said. He called Wachovia’s loan and financial programs targeting the Black demographic a disingenuous ruse. “These programs do not constitute some kind of restitution,” Merretazon said. “It must come under the concept of reparations because they committed crimes against humanity.

Dewan and Nate, in response to these statements, said Wachovia is not in the reparations business. “We’re a bank — we lend money, we take deposits, we make investments. Reparations have no basis as to what it is and what standards exist.”

“We want to take the debate into the public domain,” Merretazon continued. “And if takes a boycott to get them to the discussion table, then that’s what it will take. If Wachovia is truly remorseful, it would put its money where its mouth is.”

Dropping the B Bomb

Well, we guess it comes down to this: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is over a thousand miles away from Montgomery, Alabama. And even further from Tallahassee, Florida. Both were homes of successful boycotts that proved to be lightning rods for change.

But the spirit of fighting for what is right may well again spring forth from an area having a lot more in common with segregation-era Southern states than it chooses to admit. Meaning Wachovia could find itself in the crosshairs of a major confrontation with city officials and grassroots organizations.

Councilman Goode, Jr., who has been at the forefront of taking Wachovia to task ever since the corporation revealed ownership of slaves, asked that reparations be paid in lieu of that acknowledgement.

Wachovia’s flat-out refusal to pay reparations may set off another in an endless list of companies and corporations who were served with discrimination suits as a by-product of what those who oppose consider an insensitive response.

So, given these parameters, Philadelphia’s piggy bank could be squealing for a new home. Councilman Goode Jr. hasn’t said as much, but has been on record that Wachovia Bank, as the city’s biggest depositor, has some more explaining to do.

A report summarizing findings and recommendations of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) found that city depositories needed to improve their performance in small business lending.

The report also concluded that when separately analyzing home purchase, home improvement and refinance loans, racial disparities remain greater than income disparities.

The 2003 report ignited a firestorm of allegations that Wachovia was engaged in a pattern of discriminatory lending practices. Wachovia, in response, stated while there are areas in which they could improve, it steadfastly insisted these numbers were within the parameters of what they contend are reasonable and ethical standards.

In 2005, Philadelphia City Councilman Wilson Goode introduced Bills Nos. 050745 and 060015. These legislative amendments require depositors to develop strategies to increase credit and homeownership opportunities and to provide the city with an annual statement of community reinvestment goals including the number of small business loans, home mortgages, home improvement, and community development investments to be made within low and moderate-income neighborhoods in the City of Philadelphia.

On March 2, 2006 the Peer Lending Performance Legislation became law. Nate agrees with the premise of Peer Lending. “That’s something that we’ve recommended because if you’re establishing a strategy and investment plan, a collective plan makes sense.

“It gives a collective target for everyone to aim for and increases the level of lending across those in the lending entity, and this particular measure looks to all of the banks to do our share, as opposed to some of the other ordinances,” Nate said.

Wachovia’s support comes with a caveat, however. “I believe that while we support this, it’s the positioning of this that is a misrepresentation of Wachovia’s lending record. If you look at the NCRC report as it pertains to our lending, we are among the leaders.”

Councilman Goode Jr., in response to the passage of the recent legislation, said, “It is an important amendment. It holds city depositories accountable — and in order to address disparities within, they would prefer a measuring stick that they can refer to.

“If banks are going to strategize (re lending), this (bill passage) would be the kind of thing that fills the bill,” Goode Jr. said.

While Wachovia has adhered to the letter of the legislation by making a statement of admission to its role in slavery, some community leaders and politicians say its mea culpa falls substantially short of the spirit of the law.

But Wachovia continues to steadfastly refuse to consider direct reparations. To that end, Goode points to the findings of the 2003 National Community Reinvestment Coalition

(NCRC), which highlighted Wachovia’s record of credit relations with consumers of color; according to the 2003 NCRC report, of the six city depositor banks, Wachovia ranked last in home mortgage lending and small business loans to businesses with gross revenues of less than $1MM.

But the real ramifications for companies like Wachovia lie within the purview of public perception. Several corporations have felt the sting of an economic boycott.

In 1994, Denny’s Restaurant was the defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in regard to its treatment of African American customers.

The company took a substantial economic and public relations hit. “We were the icon for corporate discrimination,” said Debbie Atkins, director of public relations for Denny’s Inc. “It was a low point in our company’s history.”

Immediately after settling the lawsuit, however, Denny’s mounted a rigorous campaign to right its listing ship. However, the company’s first action was to admit that it had made a mistake.

“Our own statistics in 1996 showed that with of our African American guests Denny’s discriminated,” said Atkins. “But it was also a catalyst for what we have become.”

Since 1998 when Fortune 500 began to list America’s 50 Best Companies for Minorities, among the top 1,200 U.S. corporations, Denny’s has been number one twice, in 2000 and 2001.

In addition, the company has also been recognized for its diversity efforts by Essence Magazine, Hispanic Business magazine, 60 Minutes, the Martin Luther King Center and the National Urban League.

Jim Adamson, former CEO of Advantica, the parent corporation of Denny’s Restaurants wrote a book detailing the failure of its policies to insulate the company against the kinds of actions that ultimately led to the suit and how the company was able to resurrect its reputation from the ashes.

“We implemented many changes to become a more inclusive company,” said Debbie Atkins, director of public relations for Denny’s Restaurants. “Diversity is an issue that requires constant vigilance.”

On January 25, 2006, BB&T, the ninth largest U.S. bank, publicly declared that it would no longer do business with developers who planned to build commercial projects on private property acquired through eminent domain.

BB&T Chief Credit Officer Ken Chalk issued a public statement that said the financial institution decided to follow its own moral compass in doing its business. “We’re a company where our values dictate our decision-making and operating standards,” said

Chalk in the proclamation.

In the cases of both Denny’s and BB&T, it was a combination of legal actions and the vociferous remonstrations of grassroots organizations, citizens’ groups and individual private citizens that served as the muse for these corporate turnabouts.

“I support [city councilman] Wilson Goode’s initiative 100%,” says Merretazon. “But that’s just one aspect of the discourse. The most important facet is the inclusion of other aspects of reparations.

“[Wachovia] says Merretazon, “is obliged to make the kinds of overtures that would include those who were traditionally left out. You’ve got to include elements that address reparations.”

O.K. so just how would all this affect sports? Well, I can see goods and services – things sorely lacking in neighborhoods where churches and bars fight for equal turf becoming an embryonic foundation for sponsoring hundreds of Little League and Pop Warner or pee-wee sports teams like when we were kids.

Sound business plans rewarded by past “sweat equity” would help to be a stabilizing factor in providing the young and idle alternatives to the street.

The knowledge that any Black child willing to study and work hard would not be denied a college education without the pressures of tuition, for say, a generation, would go big to helping to pay the tab.

And if they are athletically inclined, the pressure to make it into the pros would be summarily cushioned by the knowledge they have something of true value to work with in the form of an advanced degree.

How many syndicates could then produce venture capital that would them to buy into minor – league franchises, set up foundations for math and science – based programs that could steer men and women into fields like sports medicine, veterinary medicine / animal husbandry, sports equipment development; this is the essence of true collusion.

So don’t worry, America – you won’t see too many Cadillac Escalades sittin’ on 40s’ — we’ve got too much else to do.

Next Time: It always hurts more when your own does it to you; the Sports MCs jump up again with, “The Black Hand Side.”