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Reparation movement haunted by anti-abolition mentality

Published:Monday | September 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMBert Samuels, Contributor
File Bert Samuels

The informed historian has no difficulty seeing the link between the struggle to end chattel slavery in Jamaica and the current reparation demands. There is an uncanny similarity between the forces which have come to resist the claim for reparation and those who launched a campaign to fight the abolition of slavery over 180 years ago, right here in Jamaica.

Let us not forget that the slaves' move to end their holocaust was aimed at 'boxing food' out of the mouths of the wealthy, powerful, and politically-connected slave owners. The slave owners had mechanisms to keep slavery 'locked' in place. They had the Maroons return runaways to face amputation so that others would not dare follow; they had 'informers' among the slaves themselves to reveal plots to overthrow Bucky Massa; and, most important, they were a powerful lobbying force in the British Parliament.


Mental slavery

One of the most effective tools the planters never hesitated to use was the spreading of propaganda among the slaves themselves - that they were inferior, not smart enough to rule themselves, and unable to make a living from their own acumen. These white anti-abolitionists knew the power of mental slavery's indoctrination as a stumbling block to a peoples' right to freedom and equality.

Today, we are witnessing this repeated opposition to a demand for compensation to be paid to the descendants of those slaves. In the 19th century, we were 'not ready' for freedom; today, we are not deserving of reparation.

This mentality has survived slavery and has come to resist the movement for reparation 180 years later. The British have refused even to tender an apology and have managed, through miseducation, to have the very descendants of slaves prepared to oppose their own right to reparation. Those who died in slavery must be turning in their graves to 'see' their descendants, who have had access to education, resisting a just and moral claim to compensation. What makes us not able to move to action, in the face of proof that the British Parliament, in the largest payout in its history, compensated slave-owning planters £20 million, equivalent to £7 billion today?

Marley spoke of the 'Babylon system' prioritising the "building church and university, deceiving the people continually... a vampire sucking the blood of the sufferers". Reparation is that which will, like blood transfusion, replace that blood lost during the ravages of slavery.

Marley appeals through song to "tell the children the truth". This is the task of the National Commission on Reparation, through public education, to expose that planters were compensated for their loss of our fore-parents and not one penny paid to those whose labour was stolen.


African holocaust

A greater example of unjust enrichment cannot be found in recorded history. The compensation records are now available online, giving detailed information of the amounts paid out, the name, address, and occupation of the recipients of planter compensation.

In the face of this, we continue to be an under-developed people who experienced 100 per cent unemployment the day following the abolition of slavery - landless and penniless. Some would want us to accept that this state of affairs, which obtained on emancipation day 1838, has nothing to do with our state of poverty and under-development today.

The call for reparation must not be stopped by the vestiges of the 19th century anti-abolitionist mentality. The British then were always prepared to reward those who wished to maintain slavery in their old 'divide and rule' tactics. Their centuries-old skills in this area have been redeployed upon the reparation movement.

We must, therefore, recognise that none but ourselves will be able to free our minds and support the reparation cause. To allow Prime Minister Cameron to leave our shores without our demand for reparation in his briefcase would be an omission for which history would never forgive us. When Prime Minister Cameron comes here, we have a solemn duty to remind him that his Parliament was lobbied by British planters for compensation, and they received their huge payout from our blood, sweat, and bitter tears.

We now call upon our parliamentarians to use our Parliament when he comes here, to lobby for our losses. That which was good for the British planters in 1838 is better for Jamaican citizens - victims of a system which delivered unspeakable horror on us, but which lifted Cameron's country to a 19th century economic renaissance.

- Bert S. Samuels is an attorney-at-law and a member of the National Committee for Reparation. Email feedback to and