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Miseducation of CXC history students continues

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

On the day of Professor Rex Nettleford funeral, Debbion Hyman, teacher at St Hugh's School, wrote 'The Road to Emancipation part 1' (Youthlink February 16-22). This piece showed that the miseducation of CXC history students continues.

However, let's start with the good news. Last year, she wrote "The Somerset case results in the passage of a law which declares slavery illegal in England" (
January 20-26, 2009). This year, there is a watered-down version of that statement. Last year, in her article about the movement towards emancipation, she mentioned activities that the British did and nothing that the enslaved did. There was no mention of Sam Sharpe's Baptist War of 1831. However, this year the contribution of Sam Sharpe is mentioned. Thank God for small mercies.

However, Hyman quotes William Claypole as saying, "Mansfield's judgment did not say slavery itself was against English law, but it did make it impossible for owners to use force [sic]. In this way, it meant that enslavement could no longer be practised in Britain itself." I do not know who Claypole is or when he lived or the book that is quoted but if he really said that, he is contradicting himself. The first part of his statement is okay that Mansfield judgment did not say slavery was against English law. How could he move from that premise to assert that enslavement could no longer be practised in English. A judge cannot change the law, he interprets the law. Only the Parliament can change the law!

A sticking point

Mansfield would need to have ruled that slavery was illegal in Britain for it to be outlawed and since he did not rule that slavery was illegal, then he could not prohibit slavery according to British law. By the way, this is one of the sticking points against reparations, in that it was not illegal in Britain so the people of African descent cannot demand reparations from Britain on that ground.

And then Hyman ends by asking, "If this is applied to the 'mother country', what were the implications for the colonies on this question of slavery?" Do not the CXC teachers recognise that if slavery was declared illegal in Britain, then it would have been illegal in her colonies?

In the 1940s, Eric Williams, leading historian and former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, in his book
Capitalism and Slavery
, corrected the false impression that the Mansfield judgment declared slavery illegal (pages 45-46). I read a copy of the Mansfield judgment on the 1772 Somerset case and it stated that enslaved persons in England cannot be forcibly removed from England. All the ruling decided was that Somerset cannot be forcibly removed to Jamaica! That is all. I will recommend three books that contradict Claypole and Hyman, namely F.O. Shyllon's
Black Slaves in Britain
(1974); James Oldham's
The Mansfield Manuscripts
The Growth of English Law in the Eighteenth Century
(1992) and James Walvin's
Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery
(1993). But since Ms Hyman does not believe me, then she can do a Google search or talk to professor Verene Shepherd of UWI.

The point is not simply about getting the facts right. It is about giving the impression that Britain was the land of the free in 1772, and that it was a kind British people who gave us emancipation without any input from the enslaved. It is amazing that the road to emancipation would have started with Mansfield in 1772 and not with the resistance of the enslaved in 1670s.

It is a good thing Nettleford was cremated so he cannot turn in his grave about this attempt to ignore the contribution the African presence in Jamaica and giving credit falsely to foreigners.

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church and author of Rebellion to Riot: The Church in Nation Building. Feedback may be sent to