Racist Business: Brown Brothers Harriman

About the Racist Business Index

The Racist Business Index List 

Information. Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (BBH) is the oldest and largest private bank in the United States. In 1931, the merger of Brown Brothers & Co. (founded in 1818) and Harriman Brothers & Co. formed the current BBH.

Brown Brothers Harriman is also notable for the number of influential American politicians, government appointees, and Cabinet members who have worked at the company, such as W. Averell Harriman, Prescott Bush, George H. W. Bush, Robert A. Lovett, Richard W. Fisher, Robert Roosa, and Alan Greenspan. It is owned and controlled by racist suspects

Offending Merchant: Brown Brothers Harriman & Co allegedly upheld, supported or perpetrated the system of racism by particpating and profiting from the slave trade.

According to USA Today, records and letters at the New York Historical Society show James and William Brown built their merchant bank — today's Brown Bros. Harriman — by lending to Southern planters, brokering slave-grown cotton and acting as a clearinghouse for the South's complex financial system. The firm earned commissions arranging cotton shipments from Southern ports to mills in New England and Britain. It also loaned millions directly to planters, merchants and cotton brokers throughout the South.

Company records show Brown Bros. loaned to plantation owners who told the firm that they needed the cash to buy slaves. When those planters or their banks failed, Brown Bros. took possession of the assets. It used its local agents to run repossessed plantations and manage the slaves working there.

The fullest picture of the Browns as slaveholders comes from 1840s and 1850s Louisiana court records affirming Brown's claim to three Concordia Parish cotton plantations totaling 4,614 acres, and the plantations' 346 slaves, each named in court records.

Brown Bros. & Co. merged with two other firms in 1931 to create Brown Bros. Harriman.

Donald Murphy, a partner, says the investment bank has no pre-Civil War records and sees no need to go through its records. "As an institution, I and my partners could look you in the eye and say we abhor that slavery ever existed in this or any other country. And yet I don't feel qualified to comment on practices and actions of a different society of 175 years ago," he says. [MORE]