A new review of historical documents has led Citigroup to acknowledge that slavery and slave labor most likely enriched the banks and other companies that eventually formed the present-day financial giant.
The benefits were likely to have come to Citi’s predecessors “through financial transactions and relationships with individuals and entities located or operating in the United States before 1866,” the bank’s public affairs head, Edward Skyler, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
Mr. Skyler said the review also “reaffirmed our previous research in that it did not identify any records showing that Citi or a predecessor institution directly purchased, sold or held enslaved persons.”
Citi hired an independent historical research firm to carry out the review as part of a racial equity pledge it made in 2020 after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer. In the weeks after Mr. Floyd’s murder, American companies and the public grappled with a fresh reminder of the vast injustices that Black Americans had been experiencing since the United States began taking shape as a country.
“Inequities resulting from the United States’ history of slavery have shaped barriers that Black communities continue to face more than 150 years after the abhorrent practice was abolished,” Mr. Skyler wrote on Thursday.
The review looked at documents from Citi’s archives, as well as records held by the New York Public Library and Cornell University, the Library of Congress, and municipal offices and the historical society in Alabama. Not all of the records that Citi’s predecessor institutions had were preserved, the bank acknowledged in a summary of the review.
Three focal points emerged in the review as possible sources of wealth and profit from slavery: a predecessor bank’s dealings with a large Alabama landowner in the 1830s; the profits earned by Lehman Brothers, which was founded in 1850 and partly merged with Citi in 1998; and the personal business of a man who had a crucial role in Citi’s early development, Moses Taylor.
The Alabama customer led to a dead end in the records, but connections to Lehman Brothers and Taylor led the historians to conclude that Citi did have historical financial ties to slavery.
In Taylor’s case, the historians cited work published by Princeton in 2016, as well as books and articles by historians of Citi published as early as 1974, highlighting the New York merchant’s involvement in importing sugar from Cuba that was produced by slave labor. His sugar imports earned Taylor a fortune, and he kept much of it at the City Bank of New York.
The bank, founded in 1812, is what Citigroup executives often point to when boasting about Citi’s 200-year history. Taylor used it “as a private treasury for his own enterprises and required his companies to keep their principal accounts” there, according to Citi’s report.
“City Bank of New York likely profited indirectly from enslaved labor in Cuba by engaging in transactions with Taylor and his businesses,” the report said.
The report is the first time the bank has acknowledged Taylor’s ties to the slave trade in material displayed on its website. Earlier descriptions of Taylor published by Citi referred to him as a “commodities trader.”
“We applaud the truth today, but truth is not enough,” Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the executive director of the Restitution Study Group, which researches companies’ ties to slavery, said in an email to The New York Times on Thursday. “We urge Citigroup to reach out to us to discuss an appropriate form of restitution.”
A representative for the bank declined to comment.
The latest research is not the first investigation Citi has made into its connections to slavery. In the early 2000s, states and cities, including California, Milwaukee and Chicago, passed measures requiring companies doing business with them to research and disclose their ties to slavery.
Some of Citi’s peers have said they turned up instances of predecessor institutions having owned enslaved people, written insurance contracts on them or accepted them as collateral for loans, but Citi said it had found no direct involvement.