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Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

African Americans Get a History Lesson in the Brutality of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Reparations Conference at Chicago State University

The conference is held at a key point in history. The reparations movement has floundered here, but it is growing in the Caribbean.

by Frederick H. Lowe
When the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire, beginning on August 1, 1834, slave-owning plantation owners were angry, and they demanded reparations for their lost property — African slaves.

The British government paid the slaveholders 40 percent of the empire’s national expenditures, which was 20 million British pounds. In today’s money that is the equivalent of $200 billion, Sir Hilary Beckles, professor of economic history at the University of the West Indies in Bridgetown, Barbados, told attendees during “Revitalizing the Reparations Movement” conference on Saturday at Chicago State University.

The reparations payment was nearly as much as President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, which Congress approved in February 2009.

Sir Beckles, author of “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide,” made his comments during his keynote address at the one-day conference. He spoke in the place of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address but couldn’t make it.

Caribbean reparations movement is expected to spark U.S. movement
The conference was held at a key point in history. While the reparations movement has failed to gain traction in the United States, it has taken off in the Caribbean. The movement there is expected to give new life to the reparations movement here.

A real history lesson outside the classroom
Sir Beckles’ speech was a history lesson about slavery and a well-documented argument about how Britain and other European countries used slavery to build their empires on the backs of Africans. The Africans were worked to death, and they were not paid a cent for their hundreds of years of labor servicing whites.

A smaller-than-hoped for audience of about 400 sat in rapt silence as he outlined Britain’s, France’s and the U.S’. role in the African slave trade that ended hundreds of years ago; its effects, however, are still with us today.

Beckles’ book and its detailed research is the foundation for 14 Caribbean countries demanding an apology and reparations from Britain and other countries for the inhumane treatment of Africans during in the trans-Atlantic slave trade from 1501 to 1866, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Data Base.

The Caribbean nations are scheduled to present their proposals to the European countries sometime in the near future, possibly in June.The countries, which are known collectively by the acronym CARICOM, include Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. Montserrat, whose foreign affairs are governed by the British, is not participating in CARICOM.

CARICOM will present a 10-point plan for reparations to Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Spain and Portugal.

“All of the white countries were of the same mind,” said Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam who also spoke at the conference. Britain transported 3.3 million slaves and Portugal transported 6 million, reports the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Data Base.

The plan outlines the following demands: a formal apology, reparations, an indigenous people’s development program, development of cultural institutions, addressing public health issues, illiteracy eradication, African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt cancellation.

If the countries do not negotiate, the Caribbean countries will sue them in the International Court of Justice, which is also called the World Court. It is based in The Hague,  The Netherlands. A lawsuit has not yet been filed, Martyn Day, the attorney for CARICOM, told The NorthStar News & Analysis.

Sweden, however, has indicated that it is willing to negotiate with CARICOM.

Sir Beckles’ book is called a reparations’ blueprint
Minister Farrakhan called Beckles’ book a blueprint for the reparations movement in the Caribbean because it details the history and the inhumane treatment of Africans, a subject whites and many blacks don’t want to know about. Many blacks dismiss the idea of reparations.

Farrakhan told attendees to buy and read “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide.” He said he would advertise it in The Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper. Farrakhan also urged blacks in the United States to support the Caribbean’s reparations movement, which he predicted would be a long, hard battle that will pit whites against blacks and blacks against blacks.

Although conservative critics and other critics have linked the reparations movement only to blacks, Sir Beckles details in his book, which was published in 2012, that the first people to receive reparations were white men.

As Britain did, the United States also paid slave owners reparations for the loss of their slaves after the Civil War, said Dr. Lewis Gordon, a professor of Philosophy, Africana Studies, and Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut. Sir Beckles did not know how much the federal government paid in reparations to U.S. slaveholders.

In his one-hour address, the audience sat in rapt attention, listening to Sir Beckles give a history lesson about slavery in the Caribbean that would never be taught in U.S. classrooms or appear on movie screens.

British slave ships transported 3.3 million Africans to the plantations in the new world, where slaves were worked to death as a form of genocide.

France ends slavery and later reinstates it

Sir Beckles discussed how France abolished slavery 1794, but reinstated it in 1812. According to David Macey’s 2000 biography of Frantz Fanon, Josephine, a white Creole from Martinique, who became Napoleon’s wife and Empress of France, successfully pushed to have France reinstate slavery to assist her family’s failing sugar plantation.

“There always was the fear that slavery would be re-introduced,” Sir Beckles said.

In the 1990s, supporters of Martinique’s independence removed the head from Josephine’s statute in a Fort-de-France park and poured red paint, symbolizing her blood, on the statue’s base. The head never was replaced. The red paint has never been removed. Josephine’s supporters had erected the statue to honor her.

The Zong massacre

He discussed the Zong massacre, which occurred aboard the slave ship Zong. The crew became lost at sea and in order to conserve food and water, they threw 142 slaves overboard on or around Nov. 29, 1781. The slaves were eaten by sharks, Beckles said.

The Zong’s owners, which were based in Liverpool, England, sought compensation from insurance companies for the slaves eaten by sharks. The insurance companies refused to pay, but a British court ruled that ship’s owners must be compensated because slaves were not human. They were property, the court ruled.

And he discussed how Britain and other European nations practiced genocide by pushing African slaves to work to the point of collapse. He added that the legacy of slavery still affects people in the Caribbean.

Type 2 Diabetes

Sir Beckles noted that people in the Caribbean suffer from high rates of Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure, which are two terrible legacies of slavery.

“They watched white men rape their women and sell their children. Slavery is over, but it is still in the jet stream,” said Sir Beckles, adding that people in the Caribbean have some of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes because of a history of poor nutrition, which was common among those enslaved.  The drugs pharmaceutical companies use to treat Type 2 diabetes are only tested on whites; they are therefore largely ineffective in treating blacks.

He said Caribbean countries are in the process of developing drugs that would effectively treat people with type 2 diabetes in the Caribbean and African Americans in the United States.

Leaving an illiterate population

And when Britain ended slavery, they left the countries with nothing. In Jamaica, for example, 70 percent of the country’s black population was illiterate.

“How can you build a country when the majority of people can neither read nor write?” he asked.

Minister Farrakhan urged the audience to take seriously the fight for reparations. “Give your life to something bigger than yourself,” he said.



IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.