The Ghosts of Slavery in Corporate Chicago

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #15 in December 2015]


Untitled, by Larry Redmond. From Reparations for Centuries of Theft and Injury: Exhibiting a Few of the Leading Criminals, at Uri-Eichen Gallery

This image is part of a series of photographic works by Larry Redmond entitled Corporate Scofflaws: Hiding Profits from Slavery exhibited at the Uri-Eichen Gallery. The exhibition was accompanied by “Reparations for Centuries of Theft and Injury: Exhibiting a Few of the Leading Criminals”, a publication based on the research of Bob Brown of Pan-Afrikan Roots as compiled by Kamm Howard of N’COBRA (National­ Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America). This full publication is available for purchase through N’COBRA. All purchases go to support their ongoing work. Following are some of the passages from the published research, accompanying this specific image. We are also including excerpts from a public discussion at the gallery about the current work of N’COBRA.

Excerpts from Reparations for Centuries of Theft and Injury: Exhibiting a Few of the Leading Criminals

Four years of tremendous research on many of the largest companies in America seeking to do business in the City of Chicago provides the foundation for the exhibit. In 2006, Bob Brown of Pan Afrikan Roots filed a massive lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County. He alleged that the entities pictured here failed to file, or filed false or misleading slavery disclosure reports, as required by the 2002 Chicago Slavery-Era Disclosure Ordinance… We are only presenting a small fraction of the 100+ entities he named in his lawsuit. Nor is the information that is presented here all the evidence provided on these entities. Even still, we are certain that with this small sample of companies and evidence, people who see the exhibit and read the evidence will understand when Blacks say “we built America.” In addition, as we now embark on the struggle to enforce our human rights to be repaired from these crimes against our humanity, we welcome the assistance of all who favor justice.

The McCormick’s Legacy  – International Harvester – CHN Global

The 1812 tax rolls showed Robert McCormick (the grandfather of Cyrus McCormick) owning 4 slaves and 7 horses. His properties included a saw mill, a cider mill, a distillery, two grain mills, and a smokehouse.

In 1831, Cyrus McCormick, or more correctly, Jo Anderson, one of his father’s slaves, invented the “Mechanical Reaper.” McCormick stole the credit and patent. McCormick sold 29 reapers that year.

In 1845, McCormick moved his Reaper business permanently to Chicago, where it prospered in the wheat boom of the 1850s.

Between 1860-1865, more than 250,000 reapers were in used on farms, including slave wheat farms

In 1902, McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and the Deering Harvester Company merged, and renamed the International Harvester Corporation (IHC). … JP Morgan Company, founded and financed this new corporation.

In 1902, McCormick made hundreds of thousands of reapers, and other agricultural tools, ploughs, drills, rakes, gasoline engines, tractors, threshers, etc., and his sales had grown to $75,000,000.00. It manufactured 85 percent of all farm machinery in the US, owned its own coal-fields and iron mines and its own forests, and produced most of the implements used by 10,000,000 fanners. Over the next three quarters of a century, International Harvester evolved to become a diversified manufacturer of farming, equipment, construction equipment, gas turbines, trucks, buses, and related companies.

In the late 1920s, International Harvester introduced the Mechanical Cotton Harvester …, this dynamic ignited a gigantic migration of unskilled poor, mostly Africans, into the industrial developed “North,” especially cities like Gary Indiana, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago.

In 1985, J. I. Case purchased International Harvester’s farm machinery division for $430 million, and acquired International Harvester’s name, production facilities, product line and distribution system. The new combination, the 2nd largest maker of farm equipment… is also the 3rd largest maker of construction equipment.  A majority of International Harvester’s assets were purchased by the Case Corporation, who continue to produce tractors and construction equipment under the CNH brand.

Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1847, and formerly self-styled as the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” it remains the most-read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region.

Colonel Robert R. McCormick edited and co-owned the Chicago Tribune for many years, beginning in 1910.


WGN Television, whose call letters are derived from the Chicago Tribune’s first slogan, “World’s Greatest Newspaper”, hit the airwaves on April 5, 1948 on Channel 9 in Chicago from its studios at Tribune Tower. Colonel Robert McCormick led the Tribune Company into the TV era, believing that “in television, we have embarked upon another of America’s adventures.”

Excerpts from a discussion held at the Uri-Eichen Gallery on May 29th, 2015.

Kamm Howard: When we talk about how African people or Black people built America, this exhibit will show you how deep: not only that we built the structures, early structures in America physically, but the capital produced financed the entire expansion of this country. And you’ll see in some of this research it also financed England’s industrial revolution. It definitely financed this industrial revolution here in America. There’s nowhere in any large city that you can’t go and visually see our ancestors’ labor that was stolen from us…

The action that we want to do is engage in a direct action campaign against all of these corporations eventually, but we’re going to target one, and once we target that corporation, we have to tie their brand to these crimes that they committed… Once you can influence the brand of a corporation you can influence their decision-making. And so, that’s the process. Now, direct action is something that, ah, black people in America actually came up with—in the Civil Rights Movement there was various direct action campaigns: boycotting, sitting in, divestment, those types of things that are considered direct action campaigns. So these are the ways we are looking at ways of going forward, but it all begins when fifty or so people commit to a direct action campaign. Fifty people can target one of these corporations for three, six, seven months, however long it takes—it has to be protracted—to force them to the negotiating table…

Larry Redmond: Let me chime in on this. I mean, I don’t want us to be too quixotic here, because, um, we’re going to encounter some very stiff resistance. If you think about the campaign against Israel, to boycott Israel, what has been the pushback? The pushback has been to pass laws that make it a crime to boycott Israel. So, once we start this, you can expect those same kinds of things to happen with us. So, don’t think that this plan is going to be the magic, the golden beebee that’s going to all of a sudden, you know, free Black folks. Um, it’s going to be a long, hard struggle. And this is only one facet of that struggle. Ok? But, it must be started.

Audience: We’ve been here struggling 500 years, what’s the difference? [laughter in room]

Larry Redmond: What’s another 23 or 10 or 70?

Audience: This will happen in my lifetime.

Larry Redmond: It’s a commitment. You have to understand, you have to commit your life to this. And it might cost you your life. So make no mistake about it. This is serious, it is dangerous. And so um, just be prepared. Be prepared.



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