An aristocratic British family has traveled to the Caribbean country of Grenada to publicly apologize for owning over 1,000 enslaved Africans and pledge £100,000 in reparations.
Laura Trevelyan, the BBC’s New York correspondent who investigated her family’s links to the slave trade, donated the money to the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Speaking at a ceremony in the capital, St George’s, also attended by Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, Trevelyan said the apology was a first step in the process of restorative justice.
“To the people of Grenada, we, the undersigned, write to apologize for the actions of our ancestors in holding their ancestors in slavery,” she said on Monday.
John Dower, another member of the Trevelyan family who sided with Laura in the apology, said slavery was a crime against humanity, adding that “we repudiate the involvement of our ancestors”.
The apology was signed by 104 descendants of co-owners of six Grenadian plantations. Seven family members attended Monday’s ceremony.
The family urged British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to negotiate compensation with Caribbean leaders for centuries of exploitation.
“We urge the British government to enter into meaningful negotiations with Caribbean governments to make appropriate reparations through CARICOM and bodies such as the Grenada National Reparations Commission,” Dower said. Caricom, or Caribbean Community, is a group of 15 countries in the region.
Other private donations will be made by the Trevelyan family to scholarships and other educational causes.
University College London published information about Trevelyan’s legacy in 2013. In 1834, as part of the abolition of slavery, the family received the equivalent, at today’s rate, of £3 million in compensation.
Laura Trevelyan, a US citizen, said the £100,000 donation would be taken from an outstanding BBC pension payment.
Professor Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and a leading reparations lobbyist, said the Trevelyan ancestors were “leading architects” and an “essential part of this world’s slavery”.
Describing slavery as a systemic genocide, Beckles said that while British traders brought 3.5 million Africans to the Caribbean, only 600,000 were in the region at the time of emancipation.
He likened compensation given to slave owners to offering a reward to a bank robber for his crime.
“The slavers dominated the British parliament. They were the lawgivers. So the slavers raided the British Treasury for £20 million to pay themselves. It was the biggest expenditure ever made by the British Parliament,” said Beckles.
The professor said that the repairs should not be seen as a handout, but as a recovery of resources extracted for the development of British urban centers like Liverpool.
He argued that the UWI’s ranking of being in the top 1.5% of universities worldwide was evidence of how far postcolonial territories might have been if three-quarters of the population could not read or write 60 years ago.
Beckles struck a conciliatory, not combative, tone in his speech, urging other alleged reparations debtors to see their role as a partnership in righting centuries-old wrongs.
Slaves could only contribute an average of seven to 10 years to the workforce of plantation economies because of brutal practices, Beckles said.
Redress activists are demanding trillions of pounds in compensation, with Jamaica alone owing £7.5 trillion.