Thursday, March 16, 2017

Columbia's Baker Athletic Complex Land: Donated By Exploiter of Black Convict Labor?

As Cara Maines reported in a Feb. 7, 2017 Columbia Daily Spectator article, research done by  Columbia University Professor of History Eric Foner and his students, as part of the Columbia University and Slavery Project, “found that most of the early presidents and trustees owned slaves, some donors profited from slave trade in the West Indies, and most students came from slave-owning families;” and “at least one student, the stepson of George Washington, brought a slave to what was then King's College.”

But what perhaps should also be mentioned is that the 26 acres of Upper Manhattan land upon which Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex stands was purchased in 1921 by a U.S. Steel Corporation director and major stockholder named George F. Baker--whose firm’s Tennessee Coal and Iron [TCI] subsidiary apparently profited in Alabama from the exploitation of forced African-American convict labor in the early 20th century. As labor and human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik noted in a July 4, 2008 Pittsburgh Post- Gazette article:
“What came to many of us as a revelation this year, presented by the Wall Street Journal's Douglas A. Blackmon in his book, Slavery by Another Name, is that the enslavement of tens of thousands of black Americans in the South did not end in 1865…As Mr. Blackmon explains..., southern political and industrial leaders…began to arrest blacks en masse on baseless charges, including the overly broad `"crime’ of vagrancy (i.e., standing around unoccupied), `offensive conduct,’ talking to white women or any other trumped-up offense…

“The targeted black citizen was then hauled before a judge or justice of the peace, pressured by implied threats of violence into confessing to a crime, and fined for both the crime and the "costs" incurred by the arresting officer, the judge and witnesses. The accused was then offered to an industrialist or farmer who offered to pay the exorbitant fines and costs in return for the accused signing a contract of indentured servitude…One of the largest users of forced labor was Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel, which purchased a coal mine -- indeed, a slave mine -- from the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. at the beginning of the 20th century. U.S. Steel signed a lease with the state of Alabama to acquire hundreds of prisoners, almost all black and almost all arrested on absurd charges, who it put to work in its Alabama mine No. 12. The many laborers who died during their periods of servitude either were buried in unmarked graves or burned inside the mines.

“As Mr. Blackmon notes in his book, U.S. Steel, unlike some companies that had used prison/slave labor during the late 19th and early 20th century, has never…paid compensation to the families of victims….”

According to an Apr. 19, 2012 article by Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman, “convicts were leased to…Tennessee Coal and Iron (TC&I), a major producer across the South, especially in the booming region around Birmingham, Alabama, “more than a quarter of the coal coming out of Birmingham’s pits was then mined by prisoners” and “by the turn of the century, TC&I had been folded into J.P. Morgan’s United States Steel complex, which also relied heavily on prison laborers.”
Owning $5,965,000 (equivalent to around $83,245,000 in 2017 dollars) of U.S. Steel stock in the early 1920’s, George F. Baker was the largest individual owner of stock in TC&I’s parent company, according to a May 4, 1924 Time magazine article. And, coincidentally, as Columbia University’s website notes, “the tract of land on which the Baker Athletics Complex stands was purchased for the University on December 30, 1921 by financier George F. Baker” as a $700,000 (equivalent to around $8,711,000 in 2017 dollars gift); and “the 26-acre area was dedicated in April, 1922 and hosted spring football practice that same year.”

A long-time president of the First National Bank of New York (which eventually merged with Citicorp’s Citibank in 1955), Baker was “closely associated with” the late 19th-century and early 20th-century U.S. robber-baron, monopolist and Wall Street banker J.P. Morgan “in his manifold enterprises,” according to Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais’s 1955 book, Labor’s Untold Story. The same book also noted that “Morgan and associates organized super-trusts in steel (U.S. Steel), shipping (International Mercantile Marine), and agricultural machinery (International Harvester);” and it also “had its hands in other fields—the railroads (where…some 30,000 miles of railway were controlled), anthracite coal (where from two-thirds to three-quarters of the entire shipment was in Morgan hands).” In addition, other Morgan monopolies included electrical machinery (General Electric), communications (AT &T, Western Union), traction companies (IRT in New York, Hudson & Manhattan), and insurance (Equitable Life).” 

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