Slave Insurance Probes Launched in California

October 5, 2000

A new California law passed this session and signed last weekend, has given California Insurance Commissioner Harry Low the authority to ask all insurers in the state to produce details of slave policies issued in the 1850s and 1860s. Aetna Inc. and New York Life Insurance Co. are part of the first batch of insurers asked to deliver such information.

The information is just the first move in potential reparations to descendents of slaves, who were denied payment on life insurance when family members died. Proceeds were paid out to slave owners. The practice of insuring slaves was not illegal at the time, though certainly immoral by today’s standards.

The legislation included two portions: the first law, the Slaveholder Insurance Policies Bill (SB 2199), calls on California’s Insurance Commissioner to request records on slave policies from insurers in the state; the second law, the UC Slavery Colloquium Bill (SB 1737) asks the University of California to hold a conference to look into “the economic legacy of slavery.”

California has also taken a leading role in compensating heirs to victims of the Holocaust. The state and its insurance department have doggedly pursued information on policies written during that time period.

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