Today’s news:

Editor’s note: Our Barclays coverage

The Brooklyn Paper

Barclays has requested a retraction from this newspaper (and others) for stories about the bank’s link to slavery and other dark moments in human history (read the letter from Barclays spokesman Peter Truell above).

But we are not retracting our stories. Indeed, further research on our part confirmed the central truth of our coverage: Barclays profited handsomely from slavery and its business dealings with the Apartheid government of South Africa.

That said, we do need to correct a glaring error in our original story (“Blood Money,” Jan. 20). That story quoted Jessie Campbell, a senior archivist for the company, who had written a letter to the Guardian, a respected British daily.

We acquired Campbell’s letter through a normal search of Factiva, a Dow Jones news database. But due to a formatting error on that database, Campbell’s letter had been grafted onto another letter describing Barclays’ “involvement in the slave trade.”

That letter was written by John Youatt Dunning, not Campbell. Campbell’s actual letter can be seen at http://www. guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,283161,00. html.

We failed to see that the letters had become fused — and we greatly regret that error.

• • •

Getting the facts right is a central tenet of journalism and the foundation of the work we do here at The Brooklyn Paper. When Barclays’ link to slavery was mentioned to us by critics of the Atlantic Yards project, we didn’t merely print the tirades of partisans, but rolled up our sleeves and checked it out with academics and historians.

We do not “make stuff up,” as some critics contend. We report what credible experts say.

Several books and accounts referred to Barclays’ involvement in the slave trade in the 18th century, but none was more definitive than Eric Williams’s “Slavery & Capitalism,” which was first published in 1944, and was re-issued, with a new forward by Princeton University professor Colin Palmer, in 1994.

Williams, who was prime minister of Trinidad from 1961-1981, was a respected scholar and historian of the slave trade. Throughout academia, there are countless citations to his book and its paradigm-shifting thesis that the Industrial Revolution was built on the backs of slaves.

Williams’s thesis “has been challenged, but never convincingly,” the Guardian reported last year.

On page 101, Williams’s book states:

“For London only one name need to be mentioned, when that name is Barclay. Two members of this Quaker family, David and Alexander, were engaged in the slave trade in 1756. David began his career in American and West Indian commerce and became one of the most influential merchants of his day. He was not merely a slave trader but actually owned a great plantation in Jamaica. … The Barclays married into the banking families of Gurney and Freame, like so many other intermarriages in other branches of industry which kept Quaker wealth in Quaker hands.”

Elsewhere, the book states:

“In 1756, there were 84 Quakers listed as members of the company trading to Africa, among them the Barclay and Baring families. Slave dealing was one of the most lucrative investments of English as of American Quakers. … The Quaker opposition to the slave trade came first and largely not from England but from America.”

When we published our stories, we had no reason to believe that any serious scholar disputed key parts of Williams’s seminal work. And Barclays didn’t call us back to challenge our belief.

Now, Barclays’ Truell asserts that Williams’s book “makes serious, unsupported and mistaken allegations about Barclays” — most importantly that Alexander Barclay “was never a partner, employee or agent of the bank” and that “the ‘David Barclay’ referred to in this book also had no connection with our bank.”

But a noted Rutgers University historian, Christopher Leslie Brown, flat out disputed Truell’s letter (see lead story, page 1). He said it is impossible to deny that Barclays profited from slavery.

Even the book that Truell referred us to — Margaret Ackrill and Leslie Hannah’s “Barclays: The Business of Banking 1690-1996” — makes one historical fact quite clear: Barclays “held the accounts of slavers and slave-owners.”

• • •

This is not the debate we wanted to have, but it is the debate that Barclays has foisted upon us by sending a letter that tried to absolve itself from what historians say is a clear link to the so-called “Peculiar Institution” of slavery.

We would much rather be analyzing the flaws of the Ratner project — the public subsidies that will allow the developer untold profits with very little risk, the huge environmental toll, the steamrolling of the established public review process — than debating the causes and villains of the horrific crime of human bondage.

Besides, our news stories about Barclays were not an examination of whether the bank had profited from slavery — all banks did, so to pretend otherwise is silly. Rather, our initial article — and its follow-up, “Black leaders rip Ratner’s $400M Barclays arena deal” — centered on the outrage that black leaders like Councilwoman Letitia James, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, former Assemblyman Roger Green, and some church pastors — felt after hearing about the Ratner-Barclays contract.

We did not manufacture their outrage; we reported it, leaving our readers to decide for themselves if the bank’s past bothered them.

It certainly bothered people long before we covered the story. As Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York) told the New York Sun, “Whether The Brooklyn Paper had highlighted the link to slavery or not, many of us involved in the reparations movement were aware of Barclays for a long time.”

• • •

A lot of confusion might have been avoided had Barclays’ officials been open with us earlier. We reached out to the company the day of the official naming-rights announcement, but two calls to England were not returned.

Then, at the naming-rights press conference, when our reporter Ariella Cohen asked Barclays President Robert Diamond about his company’s link to slavery, Mayor Bloomberg interceded and did not allow Diamond to address the very serious substance of Cohen’s question. The mayor, instead, substituted his own agenda, praising Barclays as a “great corporation.”

We have no doubt that Barclays is that, but the mayor obfuscated our reporter’s effort to get to the bottom of the bank’s murky past.

• • •

Truell’s letter also took exception to our reference to the bank’s long-documented link to South Africa’s apartheid government, and its role in freezing the accounts of some French Jews during the Holocaust.

But the letter did not substantively dispute the accuracy of our coverage so we stand by those parts of our stories, as well.

Gersh Kuntzman, Editor, The Brooklyn Paper

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