Common questions.

1. What was New York Life’s connection to slavery in the 1800s?

As a 178-year-old company, New York Life’s history is interwoven with our nation’s history, including its worst periods. For two years, between 1846-1848, New York Life sold policies on the lives of enslaved people. Our company has publicly acknowledged and is deeply sorry for this period of our history.

While we cannot change this history, we have long been open and transparent about this period. In 2002, we donated our records from this time to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a part of the New York Public Library system. The Schomburg Center is devoted to collecting, preserving and providing access to resources documenting the experiences of people of African descent throughout the world. We also paid to have the records digitized to make them more easily accessible by the public. According to the records, the company insured 520 individuals who were either identified as enslaved persons or, from the records, are likely to have been enslaved, and paid claims on 15 of those individuals who died.

2. How does your connection compare to other life insurers at the time? 

Our research indicates that there were at least 60 other companies involved in the business at the time. Nearly all of those companies went out of business and/or do not have records detailing their history.

3. How much of the company’s business did these policies represent?

The policies sold on enslaved persons' lives represented less than 5% of the premiums collected by the company during the short time the policies were sold.

4. When did the company discontinue issuing policies on the lives of enslaved persons? What prompted this change in policy?

Our records show that our board of trustees voted to end the practice in April of 1848, more than a dozen years before the Civil War and 18 years before the official end of slavery in the United States with the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Two policies were sold in 1849 after the trustees’ vote, possibly due to challenges in communicating the decision nationwide. Our records do not indicate the reason for the cessation.

5. How has the company accounted for its historical ties to slavery? 

We are deeply sorry for this period of our history, and we have made clear through our words and our actions for many years that it is a part of our history that we can never forget. We are committed to fostering a greater understanding of slavery in America and supporting the Black community – and our actions reflect that commitment.   

From donating and digitizing our records of these then-155-year-old policies to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, to being a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, to becoming a founding donor of the International African American Museum, in Charleston, South Carolina to establishing The New York Life Endowment for Emerging African American Issues at CUNY’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, New York Life has worked for years to spotlight the worst of our nation’s history and inform our understanding of it today.  

Learn more about New York Life’s commitment to the Black community here.

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