Activists have set up a Web site to press a New York life insurer to settle a dispute over 19th century policies that protected slave owners against the loss of slaves.[@@]
The group, the Restitution Study Group, has posted the site at http://www.justice4one-justice4all.com
Although a federal judge in Illinois dismissed a slave policy action in January because he said the plaintiffs lacked standing, activists have filed a related suit in Chicago that is still pending, according to Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the leader of the restitution group.
A New York Life Insurance Company predecessor company, Nautilus Insurance Company, issued the slave policies to slave owners in 1846 and 1847.
Farmer-Paellmann says New York Life settled a suit brought by descendants of the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide for $20 million shortly after the New York slave policy suit was dismissed in January.
Although the slave policies were issued in the mid-1800s, at a time when it was legal for slave owners to buy insurance to cover their slaves, some of the policies involved in the Armenian genocide case were issued as early as the 1870s, Farmer-Paellmann says.
In the 1840s, “over one third of New York Life’s first revenue came from writing slave policies,” Farmer-Paellmann says.
Farmer-Paellmann’s group has posted on its site what it says is a copy of a New York Life policy that covered an African slaved named Robert Moody.
New York Life spokesman William Werfelman says his company is sorry the predecessor company had anything to do with slave policies.
“New York Life abhors the practice of slavery,” Werfelman says. “The fact that slavery was legal in certain parts of the United States at the time doesn’t make it any less repugnant.”
But the slave policy suit filed in New York was different from the suit filed by the descendants of the Armenian genocide victims, because a court found that the plaintiffs in the Armenian policy case had standing to bring their suit, Werfelman says.
Today, Werfelman says, New York Life hopes to be known for its honorable dealings with customers and its efforts to help the community.