Insurers Required To Disclose Early Policies On Slaves

April 16, 2009|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Insurance companies doing business in Maryland will have to disclose their histories of slavery-related insurance before 1865, under a bill signed into law this week.

Similar initiatives have become law in California, Illinois and Iowa, and advocates say the mandatory disclosures will add to public knowledge of the slave-era economy in Maryland.

"As a genealogist and someone interested in my own history, this allows me to look at records that perhaps are not public records and that are held by insurance companies," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill unanimously passed by the General Assembly this year.

Gladden said the bill is an initiative of students at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, where the published reports will be stored.

Under the bill, insurance companies will have to submit by 2011 a report documenting each "slaveholder insurance policy" they issued in Maryland before 1865. Such policies in slave states like Maryland insured slaveholders against a slave's death or injury.

The insurance of slaves "was hugely profitable," Gladden said. "The [law students] saw this as an academic exercise looking at the economic implications of slavery."

Karen L. Barrow, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Insurance Administration, said similar initiatives in other states have yielded valuable documents.

In California, insurers have uncovered slaveholder policies issued by AIG, New York Life and Penn Mutual, among other companies.

There was no opposition to the bill from the insurance industry.

The Maryland reports are to be presented to the governor in 2012, and will be available on the insurance administration's Web site.

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