Common questions.

New York Life | January 5, 2023

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

In the earliest stage of New York Life’s history, the company sold policies on enslaved persons’ lives between 1846 -1848.  We are deeply sorry for this inexcusable period of our history. 

The company has been open and transparent about this part of our history.  The company’s own published accounts of the policies sold on enslaved lives appeared as early as 1895 and, in 2001, the company provided the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with the original 155-year-old company archival records of the insurance policies sold to owners of those enslaved persons. 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 inexcusable 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 our records of these then-155-year-old policies to the New York Public Library, to being a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, to sponsoring two PBS series, “Slavery and the Making of America” and “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” to establishing The New York Life Endowment for Emerging African American Issues at CUNY’s Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, 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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