17 Who Owns Your Life:?: Insurance and National Health Care
Next to the text about Philip Swan and Fred Clark is an image of an African-American man with his hands clasped together, looking up, as if pleading with someone. This figure resembles a historic image that became a contemporary antislavery icon, the supplicant slave. The image of the supplicant slave is a kneeling man with chained legs and arms, with hands raised imploringly, and the phrase “Am I not a man and a brother?” Though the figure on the sign does not bear any shackles or show this phrase, the imagery of a pleading man is the same. The original image dates to October 1787, when the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade met and approved it (Trodd 2013, 339-340). REPOhistory member Carin Kuoni intentionally chose this image to connect to the image’s history with the narrative she was sharing. Kuoni also shares the connection between the history and the location of the sign in the small, framed box of text, which states the site is near the former headquarters of Nautilus Company.
On the reverse side of the sign, behind the text is a blue scaled photograph of a crowd of people. Kuoni starts the reverse side of the sign by repeating the question from the obverse side, “Who owns your life?” The sign contrasts slave owners being able to insure the lives of their slaves with the problem of people being unable to afford health insurance, particularly people with AIDS. The sign cites an article from The New York Times that reports someone without medical insurance is three times more likely to die than similar patients who have insurance (Associated Press 1991). This implies those who cannot afford healthcare do not own their own lives, like they are slaves to the capitalist society. The sign explicitly advocates for health care to be taken care of by the government.
Abbott, Lawrence F. 1930. The Story of NYLIC: A History of the Origin and Development of the New York Life Insurance Company from 1845 to 1929. New York: New York Life Insurance Company. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015035111023.
Associated Press (AP). 1991. “Uninsured Hospital Patients Found Far More Likely to Die.” The New York Times, January 16. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/16/us/uninsured-hospital-patients-found-far-more-likely-to-die.html.
Hudnut, James M. 1895. Semi-Centennial History of the New York Life Insurance Company, 1845-1895. New York: New York Life Insurance Company. https://archive.org/details/semicentennialh01hudngoog.
Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI). 2004. Slave Polices Reported to Illinois Division of Insurance. http://insurance.illinois.gov/Consumer/SlaveryInformation/SlavePoliciesReports.pdf.
Swarns, Rachel L. 2016. “Insurance Policies on Slaves: New York Life’s Complicated Past.” The New York Times, December 18. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/18/us/insurance-policies-on-slaves-new-york-lifes-complicated-past.html.
Trodd, Zoe. 2013. “Am I Still Not a Man and a Brother? Protest Memory in Contemporary Anti Slavery Visual Culture.” Slavery & Abolition 34, no. 2: 338-352. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0144039X.2013.791172?needAccess=true.