Glasgow University Pledges Millions for ‘Reparative Justice’ for Slavery Ties

Glasgow University Pledges Millions for ‘Reparative Justice’ for Slavery Ties


LONDON — The landmark sandstone building of the University of Glasgow stands on land that once belonged to a family of West Indian tobacco merchants who used slave labor on their plantations.

Its rectors included Robert Cunninghame Graham, who owned and sold slaves on his plantation in Jamaica in the 18th century.

Now, the university, one of the oldest in Britain, has acknowledged its links to historical donors who benefited from the slave trade and has promised to raise 20 million pounds, or about $24.5 million, over the next 20 years to research slavery and its impact around the world.

“We’re entering into this in the spirit of reparative justice,” David Duncan, the university’s chief operating officer, said by phone on Friday. The money, to be raised from grants and donations, will not be used to compensate descendants of former slaves, he said, but to sponsor broad research work and academic collaborations on the subject of slavery.

To carry out the research, the university has entered into an agreement with the University of the West Indies, whose campuses are based in English-speaking nations across the Caribbean.

[Read all about The New York Times’s 1619 project for the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.]

The announcement on Friday came three years after the university in Scotland first commissioned a report on its connections to those who might have benefited from the proceeds of the slave trade. The report, published last year, found that the university, established in 1451, had received bequests and gifts in the 18th and 19th centuries from people involved in the slave trade that were worth as much as £200 million today.

That report is thought to be the first of its kind in Britain, according to a statement.

The authors recommended raising awareness about the university’s historical links to slavery with exhibitions, as well as several forward-looking measures, including a scholarship for black, Asian and other minority ethnic students; the creation of a center to study historical slavery and its legacies; and the creation of a professorship for significant research into historical slavery and reparative justice.

Glasgow, a port city in western Scotland, was once a major center of trade with the West Indies. From the mid-18th century, many of the city’s richest families owed their fortune to trade in sugar, rum and tobacco, which all relied heavily on slave labor.

Some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities have grappled recently with scholarly and financial links to colonialism. In 2016, a campaign at Oxford University to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a former student and imperialist, inspired a global debate about dealing with history. A statue of Rhodes, seen by many as an architect of apartheid, had been removed from the University of Cape Town a year earlier, but Oriel College, one of Oxford’s largely self-governing colleges, decided its monument would stay.

A few institutions have taken steps to offer reparations or compensation for the acts of former scholars and benefactors. This year, students at Georgetown University in Washington voted to increase their tuition to benefit the descendants of enslaved Africans that were sold nearly two centuries ago to ensure the school’s financial future. And in Britain, Cambridge University announced this spring that it would conduct a two-year study into its historical links to slavery and other forced labor.

The University of Glasgow is counting on sources like the British government’s Global Challenges Research Fund to raise the money for its cooperation with the University of the West Indies.

“We don’t look back with acrimony,” said Mr. Duncan, the university chief. “This is about recognizing the past but then looking forward and understanding what we can do collaboratively to make things better.”



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