Letters & Opinion

Small Steps Could Lead to Giant Steps


The Centre for Reparation Research at The University of the West Indies acknowledges the recent developments in the fight for reparation made by educational institutions. We welcome the announcements that several of them, including the University of Cambridge in the UK, are first doing the research to track the extent of their involvement in African enslavement and to uncover how the institutions contributed to, and profited from, slavery and other forms of coerced labour during the colonial era; and that others have issued apologies. The most recent is Dalhousie University which has apologised to the people of African descent in Nova Scotia for their involvement in the Trans-Atlantic trade in Africans and North American slavery. We are also encouraged by their addition of a new scholarship for a student of African descent.

We also welcome the apology from the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) for their involvement in slavery, having acknowledged that they not only used enslaved labour, but participated in the practice of segregation. In so doing, the Virginia Theological Seminary has not only acknowledged its wrongs but has dedicated itself to the creation and sustainment of a reparation fund, worth USD 1.7 million, for the descendants of those enslaved at their institution, in an effort to try to repair the injustices done by their founding fathers. These universities join other universities such as Glasgow University and Georgetown University which have apologized for their role in slavery and have taken active steps towards repairing the injustices done.

We look forward to the implementation of these initiatives by Dalhousie and VTS which must be seen as small steps along the way to achieving full reparatory justice for Africans and people of African descent disfigured by colonialism. We also hope that the universities that are still studying will eventually share their findings, move beyond apologies to actual acts of reparatory justice and join the global reparation movement. At the same time, these acts of reparation by universities are not to be seen as replacements for State action. The CARICOM Region’s demand for reparatory justice from the over 10 States, including Britain, France, Spain and Portugal that participated in the trafficking of African bodies, plantation slavery and other racist colonial acts remains on the table. May these small steps by educational institutions lead to giant steps by those who created the environment within which universities profited from slavery and colonialism.

— Verene Shepherd
Vice-Chair, CARICOM Reparation Commission

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