Wed 11 Mar, 2009
Tags: Historical amnesia, Legislation, Maryland, Massachusetts, Reparations, Slavery
The bill is sponsored by Maryland state senator Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore), and was the subject of a hearing yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis.
The legislation would require insurance companies doing business in Maryland to disclose information about insurance policies for slaveholders to the state. The state’s insurance commissioner would then make a report available to the public detailing the history revealed, including the names of slave owners and slaves.
There are several benefits to slavery-era disclosure laws. These laws often reveal details about the history of slavery which are still unknown to scholars, as they require existing corporations to search their archives and those of predecessor companies. Earlier incarnations of today’s insurance companies routinely issued policies on slaves and slaving voyages, accepted slaves as collateral for loans, and took slaves as payment from policyholders.
These laws also reveal, to a public largely unaware of the implications of American slavery, the extent to which slavery was intertwined with all aspects of American life and how its economic impact continues to reverberate across the centuries.
Those testifying about the bill today included Ira Berlin, professor of history at the University of Maryland and the author of such books as Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America (1998); and Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century (2007).
I think that Professor Berlin captured the intended spirit of these historical inquiries in his testimony before the committee:
I think we’re implicated in all kinds of ways both good and bad, and that’s the way we are as people.
It’s important that we know who we are.