JPMorgan Chase & Co. is the first company to acknowledge that two of its predecessor banks had specific links to the slave trade. The filing was meant to comply with a Chicago ordinance requiring such disclosures.
The bank, the nation's second largest, said in a statement Thursday that the two Louisiana banks had received thousands of slaves as collateral before the Civil War.
The New York-based bank also apologized for contributing to "a brutal and unjust institution" and said it was setting up a scholarship fund in Louisiana as a way to make amends.
JPMorgan officials said the bank undertook the study after Chicago passed an ordinance in 2003 requiring companies that do business with the city to research their history to determine any links to slavery. Among the companies that have been required to do such research are banks, insurance companies, bond underwriters and other financial vendors.
Jennifer Hoyle of the city's law department said it was the first contractor's filing to disclose specific slavery information under the new ordinance.
JPMorgan's disclosure was outlined in a letter to the bank's employees that was signed by William B. Harrison Jr., the bank's chairman and chief executive, and James Dimon, the president and chief operating officer. The letter was made available to reporters.
The bank said that historical researchers had found that two now-defunct predecessor banks — Citizens Bank and Canal Bank, both based in Louisiana — served as banks to plantations from the 1830s until the Civil War.
"Collateral" for mortgages and other loans "included land, equipment and/or enslaved individuals," the statement said.
The bank estimated that the two banks "accepted approximately 13,000 enslaved individuals as collateral and that the banks came to own approximately 1,250 enslaved individuals as a result" of defaults.
The disclosure did not make clear what happened to those people.
The two Louisiana banks merged in 1924 but failed in March 1933 amid the Depression. A federally chartered bank in May 1933 assumed some of the failed banks assets, and that institution _ the National Bank of Commerce in New Orleans _ was a precursor of Bank One Corp. Bank One was purchased last year by JPMorgan.
"We apologize to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens Bank and Canal Bank played," Harrison and Dimon said in their statement. "The slavery era was a tragic time in U.S. history and in our company's history."
JPMorgan said it was setting up a program called Smart Start Louisiana. The bank will provide $5 million over five years for full tuition undergraduate scholarships for African-American students from Louisiana to attend college in their home state.