Letters & Opinion

Sir Arthur and Sir Hilary: Knights of the Reparations Round Table

Image of NRC Chairman Earl Bousquet
Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

‘THE University of The West Indies (The UWI) Mona Campus recognized Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles for his 40 years of unbroken service to the regional University at a long-service awards ceremony on Thursday, January 30, 2020.

Beckles joined the Mona Campus in 1979 as a temporary lecturer at age 24. He later completed a doctorate in economic history at Hull University.

At age 36 he was appointed to a personal professorship in economic and social history, becoming the youngest person then, to achieve that academic title in the history of The UWI.

He served as head of the campus’ History Department, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies, as well as Pro Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principal at The UWI Cave Hill Campus for 15 years before his appointment as vice-chancellor in 2015.

He is the first vice-chancellor to have served at all levels of The UWI administration over 30 years.’

The above was reported by the Jamaica Gleaner on Sunday, February 9, 2020 marking a crowning highlight in the distinguished four-decades-long career of one of the Caribbean’s most distinguished sons.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles was once better known outside Barbados and The UWI circles as a respected historian and an unchallenged authority on the history of West Indies Cricket, about which he wrote several books.

But upon assuming the leadership of The UWI’s Barbados Cave Hill campus, his changes to the very structure of the main administrative building indicated the new principal had a principal mission: to help the university rewrite the true history of the Caribbean and bring more light to the darkness with which the African-Caribbean ties and history has been painted and continues to be portrayed five decades after the British West Indies started gaining independence.

Professor Beckles’ assumption of the top post of Vice Chancellor of The UWI and appointment as Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) after its establishment in 2013 has since seen the reparations issue occupy international space like never before, featuring in annual discussions at the United Nations General Assembly and still now a hot topic in the USA ahead of the November 2020 presidential elections.

Sir Hilary has taken the Caribbean’s pursuit of reparations from Britain and the European Union (EU) for Slavery and Native Genocide to the UK and the USA, Africa and the Caribbean, marrying advocacy and diplomacy with skillful negotiations with universities and institutions in the UK and Europe willing and ready to atone for Slavery through admission and contribution.

Among the loftiest achievements so far in his continuing quest for Reparatory Justice on behalf of CARICOM nations that were former British and European colonies during the Slave Trade was the 2019 agreement with Bristol University committing 20 million Pounds (Sterling) to a long-term atonement project to be jointly supervised with The UWI.

The CARICOM case for Reparations has also gained the full attention of Afro Americans and advocates for reparatory justice in the USA, where Sir Hilary was last year honoured by Black America for his role in sharing the Caribbean experience and helping build momentum in the fight for Congressional attention to the HR-40 Bill seeking a debate on Reparations that had been shelved for decades until action finally taken in 2019 to remove it from dusty drawers and place it on the table as an agenda item.

Sir Hilary also has an understandable passion for studying the life and works of Sir Arthur Lewis, his predecessor exemplar as the first Principal of The UWI — and who, like him, was as passionate about the survival and continuing contribution of The UWI to changing the Caribbean for the better.

Like Sir Arthur, Sir Hilary entered the halls of university education at a very early age and the historical coincidences in their legacies are still being written in life and cast in stone after four decades by the current Vice Chancellor.

The two knights also share an unchallenged capacity to read, think and write and one area that was (and still is) fundamental to both is the Caribbean’s noble quest for Reparations.

Sir Arthur wrote ‘Labour in the West Indies’ (1935) and Sir Hilary wrote ‘Britain’s Black Debt’ at the start of the 21st Century, both concluding Britain indeed owes a large and unpaid debt to its former West Indian colonies for Slavery and to the CARICOM nations for repair through atonement and reparatory justice.

Sir Hilary is passionate about highlighting the fact that Sir Arthur in fact published the first economic model for reparations from Britain in ‘Labour in the West indies’ and is reliably reported to be about to conclude another seminal work that will further examine and expose, again without room for doubt, how Britain underdeveloped the West Indies.

Sir Arthur would have been a centenarian-plus today and the Saint Lucia Nobel Laureates Committee started the Third Decade of the Third Millennium honouring his 2020 Vision alongside fellow Nobel Son of the Saint Lucian soil, writer and poet Sir Derek Walcott, the two of whom also miraculously share the same birth date, January 23.

The decade of the 2020s is shaping-up to be one in which the words and works of Sir Arthur and Sir Hilary, as knights around the global reparations table, will together continue to shower the continuing journey and quest for reparatory justice with the necessary constant drizzles of inspiration that will ensure more minds and hands will bloom in the fields from which thousands of flowers will be harvested when the final Reparations battle is won.

As Saint Lucia approaches its 41st Independence Anniversary, Saint Lucians will be pleased to know and acknowledge the quiet but consistent contributions of these two eminent Caribbean scholars of inestimable measure.

Hail Sir Arthur!

Big-up, Sir Hilary!

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