Verene Shepherd | Honour is a must – reparation now Honour is a must – reparation now
As we approach another anniversary of Emancipation Day, everyone should take this opportunity to honour the men and women, enslaved and free, whose activism forced the colonial British Government to pass the Emancipation Act of 1833 (effected in 1834) and then to end slavery fully in 1838.
The abolition narrative that most of us grew up on was that Queen Victoria (who reigned from June 1837-January 1901) set us free but as a result of the activism of British abolitionists like Clarkson, Newton, Wilberforce, Anne Knight, Elizabeth Heyrick, and Georgina, the Duchess of Devonshire. Occasionally, Olaudah Equiano’s and Ignatius Sancho’s roles are recognised.
We must never forget, however, to credit the mighty Haitian revolutionaries, who had a regional emancipatory project after their successful revolution, and other black abolitionists, who despite the weaponisation of the region by colonisers and their use of physical and mental terror to silence resistance, placed boots on the ground and marched and fought for freedom, against the odds.
In this regard, let us recall some freedom fighters of the British-colonised Caribbean, among them King Court (or Tacky/Prince Klaas); Philda and Queen of Antigua/Barbuda; Nanny Grigg and Bussa of Barbados; Adelaide Disson of Trinidad and Tobago; Jack Gladstone of Guyana; Pompey of The Bahamas; and Nana of the Maroons, Chief Takyi, Chief Jamaica, Kitty Scarlet, and Samuel Sharpe of Jamaica.
We honour those who used other forms of resistance, short of armed protest (especially marronage), to destabilise the system of slavery, including Sally Bassett and Mary Prince of Bermuda; Betto Douglas of St Kitts-Nevis; Charlotte and Angelique of Dominica; Susanna, Amba, Phati, Lucretia of Guyana; Alida of Suriname; and Mary-Ann Reid and Whaunica of Jamaica.
On this 182nd anniversary of “full free”, a special tribute must be paid to all those who said, like Marlon James’ Night Women, in the book of the same name, “enough done be enough” and launched an outright war for Emancipation in Jamaica on December 27, 1831. Like Quamina of the 1823 war in what is now Guyana, a peaceful strike for wages was the first strategy articulated by Samuel Sharpe.
But a back-up plan had already been made: armed protest if the enslavers failed to respond to Plan A. Indeed, in advance of Boxing Day in December 1831, the plantations had already been numbered in the order in which they would be burned – starting with Kensington, Blue Hole, and Leogan – and leaders were all assigned to lead the fight against Britain. Superior, and a greater number of weapons, and help from Maroons defeated the brave enslaved warriors. But ahead of his execution, one of them, Linton, made it clear that freedom was a must even if he did not live to see it:
In about three or four years, the Negroes will break out again, for they can’t help believing that the king has given them freedom, especially as they hear so much about it from newspapers. Those who can’t read always give a five pence to anyone who can to read the papers to them when they hear they contain good news for them … I tell you again, if the gentlemen don’t keep a good look-out, the Negroes will begin this business in three or four years, for they think the Lord and the king have given them the gift, and because those who were joined in this business are all sworn. I will not tell any more.
At the end of this war in Jamaica, over 600 were tried: 181 in St James, 140 in Hanover, 78 in Westmoreland, 73 in St Elizabeth, 70 in Trelawny, 31 in Manchester, 28 in Portland, 16 in St Thomas in the East, and nine in St Thomas in the Vale. The overwhelming majority were punished by flogging, hanging, deportation, or imprisonment. According to historian Michael Craton, of those executed, 28 per cent were shot and 72 per cent were hanged.
Guilty or not, the punishment of the activists was savage and left a trail of blood almost from Negril to Morant Point and from Black River to Spanish Town. Governor Belmore was aware that the punishments for many were out of proportion to the so-called ‘crimes’ committed, but he justified his stance by saying that “mistaken lenity (leniency) would have only operated as an indirect encouragement to the disaffected to persevere in their lawless design”.
All of us are familiar with the name of the principal leader, now a Jamaica National Hero, Samuel Sharpe, Daddy Sharpe to his co-revolutionaries. But we must hear and know the names of other men and women who so valiantly fought and gave their all for our freedom: men like Samuel Cunningham; William M’Kinley; Linton; William Binham; William Wilson of Wickham; Robert Brown of Spur Tree; Sam Boucher of Malbro Mount; Thomas Cole, William Proudlove, and William Sterling of Bullhead; Ellick of Glenhead; William French of Skiddaw; Thomas Lamb of Moreland; Richard Lewis of Berry Hill; Joseph Melville of Content; James Miller of Hopeton; Edward Robinson, Richard and Abraham Peart of Spice Grove; John Ricketts of Kingsland; Wellington of New Forest; and women like Ann James, Eliza Whittingham, Jane Whittingham, and Kitty Scarlet, who were sentenced to death.
For were it not for each and every one of their sacrifices, we may not be enjoying the joys of freedom we so often take for granted.
ENDURED UNSPEAKABLE TRAUMA
It is for them that we demand reparation from complicit European states that conceptualised, capitalised, legislated and operationalised the system and coopted others into their criminal enterprise. Our ancestors endured unspeakable trauma from capture, sale, and march to the coast, through confinement in coastal holding cells/barracoons, to the Middle Passage journey and enslavement in the Americas.
They never accepted their condition, which is why they fought for freedom. They were tortured and murdered for their activism – like the 77 burned alive in 1736 in Antigua; the 400 executed for joining Tacky and other Gold Coast Chiefs who led a war in St Mary, starting in 1760; the 50 who died in battle; the 70 executed in the field; the 300 taken to Bridgetown for trial, of which 144 were executed and 132 sent away to another island after the war of 1816 in Barbados.
After the 1823 war in Guyana, hundreds of rebels were hunted down and killed, including 200 who were beheaded as a warning to other enslaved people. Quamina, who had argued against the violent protest, was tracked down by dogs and some indigenous people and killed. In the 1831-32 war in Jamaica, 200 were killed in battle and about 344 executed after “trials”.
When slavery finally ended, those who survived it received no compensation, unlike the planters who received £20 million in cash and an estimated £25-27 million in the 1834-38 free labour scam dubbed “The Apprenticeship System”. While we mourn the murder of George Floyd in the United States, which has given rise to the escalation of the Black Lives Matter Movement, we should use the opportunity it has provided to intensify the reparation movement so that his death will not be in vain.
We are aware that some religious, educational, and financial institutions have now expressed regret, even offered apologies for their part in a crime against humanity, with some promising reparative atonement.
However, the countries that facilitated their involvement have been reticent on the matter of reparation despite the overwhelming evidence that it is a right. We call on Britain and other complicit states to follow the example of these institutions and engage in a meaningful reparatory-justice conversation with the descendants of the victims of the African Holocaust.
As Sir Ellis Clarke, the Trinidadian Government’s United Nations representative to a subcommittee of the Committee on Colonialism, said in 1964: “An administering power … is not entitled to extract for centuries all that can be got out of a colony, and when that has been done, to relieve itself of its obligations … . Justice requires that reparation be made to the country that has suffered the ravages of colonialism before that country is expected to face up to the problems and difficulties that will inevitably beset it upon independence.”
- Verene A. Shepherd is member of the National Council on Reparation, and director, Centre for Reparation Research, at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.