Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Reparation – the greatest political tide of 21st century

Published:Sunday | May 9, 2021 | 12:17 AM
A man photographs a maquette of a statue, at City Hall, London, in August 2008.
A man photographs a maquette of a statue, at City Hall, London, in August 2008.
Gabrielle Hemmings
Gabrielle Hemmings

In this edition of Reparation Conversations, a collaborative initiative of Centre for Reparation Research (CRR) and The Gleaner, continues to provide a round-up of key issues around reparation on national, regional and international stage.

Professor Hilary Beckles, in his article for the 2019 Special Reparation Issue of the Journal, Social and Economic Studies, claimed that “the reparatory justice struggle will be the greatest political movement of the twenty-first century.” Indeed, he has been repeating that claim since 2001. Yet, no one could have foreseen the vigorous strides taken, especially in the past year, for the reparatory justice movement.

The brutal murder of African American, George Floyd, at the hands of the Minneapolis policeman on May 25, 2020 relit the fire of the Black Lives Matter Movement and propelled calls for reparatory justice not only in the United States (US) but, across the world. Almost a year later, the fight continues with new developments happening each week across the globe. In our last Reparations Conversation, we highlighted the successes that this movement has on the international stage. Since then, there have been numerous developments.


We begin with an update to the previously highlighted Evanston Restorative Housing Programme. We previously reported that the Chicago city of Evanston has allocated US$10M to create a local reparation fund and that the Evanston Restorative Housing Programme is the first initiative born out of this fund. Subsequent to this, the Family Independence Initiative (FII), having heard about Evanston’s programme and in its desire to assist, has donated US$75,000 to be allocated to two dozen families living in Evanston. Families will receive US$3000 in ten US$300 monthly instalments and the FII has stated that it will not stipulate how these funds should be spent.

In California, the first Latino Democratic Senator, Alex Padilla has publicly acknowledged his support for reparations for African American descendants of enslaved people. He issued a statement to members of California’s ethnic press on April 28 stating that “it is the morally right thing to do,” highlighting that “We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time…we should be able to negotiate and advance an infrastructure package, and immigration reform…and address historical injustices like this.” While this is a welcomed advancement, this is unsurprising as several members of the US Democratic Party have publicly pledged their support of reparations for African American descendants of enslaved Africans over the years.

Typically, the issue of reparation in the US has picked up the support of Democratic politicians and members, often identified as a more progressive/liberal issue. On the other hand, reparation has received the majority of its backlash from those who subscribe to a more conservative school of political thought, often receiving opposition from US Republican Party members and supporters.

However, on April 22, Republican writer and columnist at the Washington Post, Gary Abernathy, in an article expressing his support for reparation and the reasons why other conservatives should follow suit. Abernathy posited that while he had often rebuffed the idea of reparations or a formal apology for slavery, he now supports reparation (though explicitly stating his disagreement with the formal apology aspect) as he believes that “it is undeniable that White people have disproportionately benefited from…the legacy of slavery and…will continue to do so for generations to come.” A turning point for reparation in the US? We standby to see.


Developments continue to progress in the United Kingdom, more specifically in Scotland, where two Scottish Historians, David Alston and Donald Morrison, have released findings that indicate that the Dick Bequest – a trust which provides grants to teachers and schools in North East Scotland – originated from profits from the Transatlantic Trade in Africans (TTA). They claim that James Dick, who bequeathed £120,000, which led to the establishment of the Bequest, was in fact a trader in the TTA in Jamaica. With approximately £1.7 million in the trust at present, Alston and Morrison have made calls to return these funds to Jamaica. These calls have subsequently received public political support from Scottish MPs such as Gillian Martin and Richard Lochhead.

Across the UK, numerous entities, including musea, have examined and continue to examine and publicly address their connections to slavery. Among them is a museum dedicated to novelist Jane Austen at her old home in Chawton. It has been revealed that Austen’s father was a trustee for an Antiguan sugar plantation. The museum’s director, Lizzie Dunford announced that it will include details about Austen’s family ties to the TTA. She also noted that there have been increasing questions by the museum’s visitors about Austen’s connections to the TTA.


The reparatory justice movement is not exclusive to repairing the harmful legacies of slavery and colonialism faced by people of African descent. In fact, at its core, the reparatory justice movement acknowledges the need for reparation to Indigenous Peoples – who were the first to encounter the brutal force of European colonialism. In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took an important step in the right direction by apologising to the indigenous Mayan people for injustices committed against them since Spanish conquest.

At an event held in Quintana Roo, Obrador apologised stating that “We offer the most sincere apologies to the Mayan people for the terrible abuses committed by individuals and national and foreign authorities in the conquest, during three centuries of colonial domination and two centuries of an independent Mexico.” This conversation is taking place even as some people in Jamaica marked “Taino Day” on May 5. Will Spain apologise for its colonial wrongs towards the indigenous peoples in the Caribbean?


Readers may recall that Ahmed Reid, a member of the CRR’s scholars’ network, brought to light the connections of several founding members of what is now known as the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) to the TTA previously highlighted on the JCC’s website. Subsequently, the JCC has made strides by removing what it cites is a “historically incomplete text” with promises to furnish a more historically accurate document about its history.

This is crucial as reparatory justice is not only about pay-outs and apologies; it also includes changing the iconographic landscape in which we live and paying tribute to our enslaved ancestors. The Manning’s School has also made an important step. Following the discussion between CRR’s Director, Verene Shepherd and Ahmed Reid on Talking History about the nature of Thomas Manning’s bequest, which established that school, Manning’s has now declared its intentions to have a ceremony and plaque erected to the enslaved people and the Taino woman, listed in Manning’s Will.

So, at ‘yaad and abroad’ we continue to see the successes of the reparatory justice movement. The greatest political tide of the 21st Century? Yes, indeed.

Gabrielle Hemmings is research assistant in the Centre for Reparation Research at The University of the West Indies. Send feedback to