The state of Maryland is currently considering a slavery-era disclosure law, similar to the one now pending in Massachusetts and previously adopted in several other states.

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.

5 Responses to “Maryland considers slavery-era disclosure law”

  1. Chip Wiliford says:

    Slavery robed us of the memories of who wee are. This bill should be nationwide.

  2. G Phillips says:

    The study of history is a key to understanding the present. Celebrate the growth of civilization and not remorse in the mistakes of our fathers. The mistakes we make today can not destroy the dreams of future generations.

  3. James says:

    Thank you, G, for your thoughtful response to this legislation.

    I couldn't agree more that understanding history is key to understanding the present. You also write:

    Celebrate the growth of civilization and not remorse in the mistakes of our fathers

    Could you have said, just as easily, that we should "celebrate the growth of civilization and acknowledge the mistakes of our fathers"?

    I wouldn't want to think that anyone seeks to dwell on the sins of the past. I do believe, though, that it's as important to recognize the darker aspects of our history as it is to celebrate the good. This is especially true, I think, when that darker history happens to have been an essential ingredient in the "growth of civilization" over the last several centuries.

  4. Hearing set for Massachusetts slavery-era disclosure law | The Living Consequences says:

    […] a slavery-era disclosure law was Maryland, which enacted its law in the spring. I wrote then about the benefits of such laws in combating this nation’s historical amnesia concerning the centrality of slavery to our […]

  5. gregory neal says:

    I would agree with both gentlemen but I would have to disagree shouldn't we be looking at our pass and paying very close attention to our present shouldn't? our past have taught us it seems it's taught us very little there are those among us who are makeing a joint effort to take this country back to preworld war1 era as acountry we've come a long way and now were being asked to take3steps back we have to wake up as a nation do we go back or

    move forward?

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