FORT LAUDERDALE – The Hinton brothers Perry and Richard, born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, had never heard about slavery in the West Indies – until a few days ago.
That was when they attended a lecture by Hilary M. Beckles, principal and pro-vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.
The Hinton brothers and others in the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale were told by mistress of ceremonies Heather Russell, a professor at Florida International University, to expect an astounding presentation.
That’s what they got during a 90-minute lecture by Beckles and question-and-answer session.
The event celebrated Caribbean Emancipation and was presented by the Caribbean American Cultural Coalition, under the auspices of State Rep. Hazelle Rogers and the Caribbean consular corps.
It was followed Friday by a Queh-Queh ceremony – a celebration that happens usually the day before a wedding – highlighting Afro-Guyanese culture and held at the German American Society of Greater Hollywood.
Beckles illustrated his speech with a slide presentation, supporting his new book, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide.
The 291-page work records the history of Britain’s slave trade and the reasons why that country must apologize and make repatriations to the English-speaking Caribbean.
“This book could have been called ’Europe’s Black Debt but Great Britain started the slave trade,” Beckles said.
Britain cornered the slave market and even the royal families benefited from the slave trade, he said. The book cover pictures a young Queen Elizabeth in 1966 visiting the sugar plantation of her cousin, the 7th Earl of Harewood, in Barbados. The plantation was bought by the earl’s ancestors in 1780 and had 232 slaves.
Beckles asserts that reparations are necessary because slavery amassed great wealth for Britain and the people of the Caribbean are owed some of the profits. His book details ledgers that show the huge profits made during the slave trade and huge payments made to slave owners to offset their loss of not being able to own slaves after emancipation in 1834. The profits ran into the billions in today’s dollars, he said.
Beckles said the only compensation Britain is willing to talk about for the Caribbean nations is aid.
Rogers, in her opening remarks, asked Beckles to emancipate the audience from mental slavery with his delivery, quoting the late reggae superstar Bob Marley.
Rogers said she got behind the program because of children. As part of the two-day celebration, about 90 children heard about Emancipation Day and its significance during a program called “Teach the Children the Truth…” held at Atonement Episcopal Church in Lauderdale Lakes also on Aug. 1. Geared toward children aged 8-18, the program included discussion, films, storytelling and reflection on history.
“It is very necessary that children understand the connection to Africa, the Caribbean and Europe,” Rogers said. “History and civics are not being taught in school so we as a community have to make sure they are being taught about their past.”
The celebration of emancipation comes on the heels of a decision by heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) group of nations at their 34th regular summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, last month to provide support for a high-level committee to explore the ways by which Britain, France and The Netherlands should pay compensation for slavery and genocide, according to Beckles and the Trinidad and Tobago Express newspaper.
The CARICOM leaders also decided to create a special committee to oversee the work of a CARICOM Reparations Commission comprising the heads of National Reparations Committees plus a representative of the University of the West Indies research unit, the Express reported.
Beckles said CARICOM has hired the British law firm Leigh Day which, according to the Guardian newspaper, staged a “successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government.”
The financial ramifications of slavery did not come into the mind of Ingrid “B” Bazin before hearing Beckles’ lecture. She bought Beckles’ book for her father and plans to read it herself.
“I didn’t think of the slave trade as a real corporation with CEOs and officers but it was big money business,” Bazin said.
Richard Hinton, too, hadn’t been taught or read about the slave trade in the Caribbean. “So I said let me go and listen to this professor,” the retired U.S. Army veteran said. “I didn’t really know about it. I came for the knowledge, to learn something.”