A Caribbean struggle, which began in the 1830s seeking restitution for the enslavement of people of African descent, will move a step forward and be the focus of a forum on Monday, February 27, in Grenada.
The forum, at the Trade Centre in Morne Rouge, is being organized by the Grenada National Reparations Committee (GNRC), which was set up by a cabinet conclusion of March 2021.
Its mandate is to advocate for the attainment of reparatory justice.
Among the attendees and speakers at the forum will be vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Hilary Beckles, who is also the chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission; and BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan and members of her family.
The Trevelyans were plantation owners in Grenada in the 19th Century and enslaved more than 1,000 Africans on five sugar estates.
Laura Trevelyan, who produced a documentary on Grenada last year – “Grenada Confronting the Past’’, has apologized for her family’s slave-owning past.
She will be joined by other family members on this month’s Grenada visit to issue a public apology.
The family will give £100,000 – the equivalent of about US$120,000 – to establish an education fund at the UWI Open Campus Grenada; details of the fund will be determined by the GNRC in collaboration with the Government of Grenada. More information on this issue will be shared at the forum of the 27th.
“The Trevelyan family asked how they could make reparations. They were told about the CARICOM ten-point plan and they sought advice from Professor Hilary Beckles,’’ said attorney Arley Gill, GNRC chairman.
Forty-two members of the Trevelyan clan have agreed to sign a letter of apology for the enslavement of Africans in Grenada.
“For me to be giving £100,000 almost 200 years later, maybe that seems like really inadequate,’’ said Trevelyan, head of the BBC’s New York office. “But, I hope that we’re setting an example by apologising for what our ancestors did.’’
Trevelyan said she has been contacted by British families “in similar positions, descendants of slave owners – some of them with far more significant holdings than us. They want to talk about how to handle their own past’’.
In recounting her 2022 Grenada trip, Trevelyan recalled seeing “the instruments of torture that were used to restrain’’ the enslaved.
“It was really horrific,’’ she said. “I saw for myself the plantations where slaves were punished. I felt ashamed. You can’t repair the past, but you can acknowledge the pain.”
Gill described the attempt at restitution by the Trevelyans as a “positive step in the right direction’’.
“Years ago, the governments and peoples and institutions and families in the former colonial powers were not even prepared to give an apology,’’ he said.
One current Grenada parliamentarian, Peter David, welcomes the apology and the reparations payment.
“The apology is critical and is a recognition of the evils of slavery,’’ said David, MP for the Town of St George.
“For there to be an apology, it indicates an understanding that slavery was an economic institution, and the impact that slavery and the colonial period have had on the economic wellbeing of our countries, our peoples and on communities of peoples of African descent.’’
UWI’s Dr Nicole Phillip-Dowe, who is GNRC vice-chair, said a slavery apology is “necessary’’ in the ongoing struggle of reparations.
“It is exceedingly heartwarming to see the Trevelyan family taking that very bold step, a leap of faith you may call it, to be able to come forward and say what was done in the past was wrong; we acknowledge it was wrong, and we want to apologise on behalf of our family for what has happened in the past,’’ she said.
“As a student of history and a teacher of history, it’s absolutely amazing to see history in the making; having taught Caribbean history, having taught about enslavement and the horrors of enslavement and the need for reparations, starting first with an acknowledgment that something wrong was done and issuing an apology, are absolutely necessary moving forward. ‘’