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Council OKs Slave Clause

An ordinance will require companies doing business with the city to disclose whether they ever profited from servitude.

May 17, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to require companies that do business with the city to report whether they ever profited from slavery, and Mayor James K. Hahn said he would sign the measure into law.

"It's important symbolically," said Councilman Nate Holden, who sponsored the motion. "If companies did in fact benefit from slave labor, we need to know it."

The ordinance, which will be drafted by the city attorney's office and returned to the council for final approval, would not penalize companies that declined to disclose their pasts. In Chicago, where a similar ordinance was enacted last fall, not a single company has come forward.

But advocates say that is not the point.

They cheered the Los Angeles motion, which was approved unanimously, as an important sign that city officials care about their history.

"I think we made a great step here today," said Geraldine Washington, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "I think it's going to help people in the community."

Companies with slavery in their past will not be barred from doing business with the city. But the law will require companies to research their records and provide affidavits stating whether or not their predecessors profited from slavery.

"This is not a measure that will hinder business," said David Horne, executive director of the California African American Political Institute at Cal State Northridge.

Still, Holden said he hoped that companies with slavery in their past would "make a good-faith effort" to provide some restitution, perhaps by supporting scholarships or youth programs.

Three years ago, California passed a law requiring insurance companies to disclose whether they had ever sold policies on slaves. Eight firms have reported such policies and turned over the names of 614 insured slaves.

Some in the insurance industry have worried that the laws could lead to a flood of lawsuits seeking compensation.

But Councilman Bernard C. Parks said it is important for residents to know that the city supports their quest to bring to light a history that has long been hidden. "Our community may never overcome the bondage of slavery," he said. "Even if not one dime is recovered, it's important this city take a stand."

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