Sun | Sep 24, 2023

The lifetime of a 1954 baby

Published:Wednesday | September 13, 2023 | 12:07 AM


In 1954, the year of my birth, witnessed the desegregation of public schools in the United States of America. It was as a result of the ruling from the highest court in the USA, its Supreme Court, in the case Brown v Board of Education. This ruling was in direct conflict with its earlier Dred Scott decision of 1857.

In this scandalous 1857 judgment, the said Supreme Court decided that African Americans could not become citizens. Eight years after the non-citizenship decision, the year Joshua, my grandfather was born, freedom finally came in the USA and slavery was abolished in 1865. In this celebrated year on the American calendar, Governor Eyre of Jamaica presided over the slaughter of over 400 newly freed African Jamaicans in St Thomas.

Joshua’s father, Edward, was an enslaved boy when slavery was abolished in 1838. The journey – whether your birthplace be in the USA or Jamaica – has been one laced with institutionalised dehumanisation and suffering.

In 2012, the great-grandson of the enslaved Edward became a member of the National Council on Reparations of Jamaica. Ten years prior to this appointment, I argued in the Supreme Court of Jamaica, a case brought by two Rastafarian brethren for reparations to be paid to us by Elizabeth II, Queen of England.

When the reparation movement started in Jamaica, our cause was openly scoffed at. It was ridiculed and mocked as the piped dream of a bunch of dreamers preoccupied with the ills of the to-be-forgotten past. In fact, when British PM Cameron came here in 2015, he took on board the detractor’s view and chastised us for “peering into the past”. When he was googled, he was caught laying a wreath in memory of the Jews who suffered for a decade in the Holocaust. He is on record as defending using taxpayers’ monies to build a memorial in the heart of London as, in his own words, it was “symbolically important”.


Reparations is no longer subject to the talk that “it’s going nowhere”. Thanks to the advocates, whose persistence and hard work have paid off. This just movement is no longer at the advocacy stage. This ever-justified cause received its greatest push from the Black Lives Matter advocates of the 2020s.

Indeed, reparations is based on the theme that black lives do matter. This is why the statue of Colson, the celebrated trader in enslaved peoples, was discarded in June 2020 by a mixed-race group of young protesters.

We are presently in the quantification/implementation stage of the claim for reparations. Justice Patrick Robinson, a Jamaican and appointed judge of the International Court of Justice, pioneered the assembling of a team of assessors who have produced the 2023 Bratley Report. They have assessed the reparation debt due to African Jamaicans as being over nine trillion pounds.

As the assessors were working the numbers, some of the heirs of the enslavers have come forward to offer their apology and are prepared to pay reparations for the ill-gotten gains of their ancestors. The movement is encouraged by this turn of events with one caveat, which is that the victims must control the narrative and pilot the demand and quantification of the compensation to be paid.

Our ancestors are depending on us to never let them down in making a claim the planters successfully made to Britain, but which the said Britain is now refusing to pay us on their behalf.