Descendants of slaves filed a $1 billion lawsuit Monday against U.S. and British corporations, accusing them of profiting by committing genocide against their ancestors.
Lawyers for the eight plaintiffs said the complaint was the first slave reparations lawsuit to use DNA to link the plaintiffs to Africans who suffered atrocities during the slave trade.
The suit filed in federal court in Manhattan accuses Lloyd’s of London, FleetBoston and R.J. Reynolds of “aiding and abetting the commission of genocide” by allegedly financing and insuring the ships that delivered slaves to tobacco plantations in the United States.
The defendants “have destroyed our national and ethnic identity,” one of the plaintiffs, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, said at a news conference announcing the suit.
DNA testing has made a “direct connection” between Farmer-Paellmann and the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone, whose people “were kidnapped, tortured and shipped in chains to the United States,” the suit said.
Scientific evidence also has linked the other plaintiffs to tribes in Niger and Gambia, the suit said.
Ellen Matthews, a spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds, said the company had not received a copy of the suit. Calls to the other defendants were not immediately returned.
In January, a federal judge in Chicago threw out a similar lawsuit brought by descendants of slaves.