The largest union-owned bank in the United States announced its support for reparations for African Americans on Wednesday.
Amalgamated Bank became the first major American bank to endorse HR 40, a piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee that creates a commission to develop reparation proposals for African Americans.
The bank also called for tangible remedies for African Americans and an explicit apology for slavery’s foundation in today’s economy. Amalgamated had $6 billion in total assets as of December 2020.
The New-York based firm is known for supporting progressive causes, and was the first bank to advocate for policies to end gun violence and increasing the minimum wage to $20.
“While Amalgamated’s nearly 100-year-old legacy of social action is clearly demonstrated, we acknowledge that there is more for all of us to do to stem the tide of complacency and call for higher levels of justice for all people,” the bank said in a statement.
The “40” in the bill comes after “40 acres and a mule,’ the government’s first promise to former enslaved people for some sort of reparations. But President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president, reversed that proclamation, killing hopes of growing Black economic activity and instead giving way to racist systems, including those propagated by banks and the financial sector.
Today, black people are more likely to be unbanked or underbanked, which means they don’t have or commonly use traditional bank accounts. Banks also have been alleged to practice “redlining,” meaning they denied providing mortgages in Black neighborhoods. Consumer advocates claim the practice continues in a different form — reverse redlining, which targets minorities with predatory lending, such as subprime mortgages. This resulted in housing segregation and the racial gap in home ownership — a 30-percentage point difference between Black and White people, according to the Urban Institute.
“H.R. 40 is a basic first step to move the country forward in building an equitable economy that creates opportunity for all people to thrive and meet their basic needs,” said Lynne Fox, chair of Amalgamated Bank’s board of directors and interim CEO.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties heard testimony on the bill last month. HR 40 has been introduced repeatedly in Congress since 1989, but it’s never passed.
Estimates put the amount of money for reparations from $12 trillion to $35 trillion, when considering the value of “40 acres and a mule” today.
Since the summer Black Lives Matters protests, there has been a push for racial equity in every industry, including the financial sector.
“We believe H.R. 40 should be the first of many actions to make amends for our country’s long history of racism and ensure a more just future for all Americans,” Fox said.
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