In a rare move by an institution of education, Scotland’s Glasgow University has admitted to receiving millions of dollars from slavery in Africa and the Caribbean. It is now putting in place structures to pay reparations in a move that has been lauded as great across the world.
This information was made available in a report called Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow, which was prepared by the History of Slavery Steering Committee put together to determine the university’s connection to people who benefited directly from slavery.
According to the report, although many of the staff in the University were against slavery and that the University neither had any enslaved person nor did it trade in goods produced by enslaved people, funds from people who had benefitted from proceeds of slavery were given to the university in the form of gifts and bequests and used in supporting academic activity by the students.
The University of Glasgow acknowledges that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it received some gifts and bequests from persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery. Income from such gifts and bequests has been used in supporting academic activity undertaken by the students and staff of the University
The report further listed some of the people who graduated from the university and went ahead to become slave-owners in the Caribbean. One of the adversely mentioned people is Robert Cunninghame Graham who graduated from the University and had become a rector in the 1780s.
Graham owned and ran a plantation in Jamaica, where enslaved people worked extreme hours and at terrible conditions. He was also known to have sired many children with enslaved women, enslaving and even selling these children to be enslaved in other plantations.
“It is possible that there were some of the people that Graham sold were his own children… It is possible that Ardoch may have been one of Graham’s children, for the young enslaved man was named for a Scottish estate in Graham’s family, an estate which Graham later inherited. It seems likely that only Graham could have been the source for this unusual name for an enslaved child,” the report says.
Upon his return to Scotland, Graham was made the rector at the University until 1787. As per the report:
A year after stepping down from the Rectorship Graham made a gift of £100 to the University of Glasgow to establish the Gartmore Gold Medal, to be awarded every two years for the best student work on ‘Political liberty’. By the time that Graham served as Rector and endowed a prize for the best student work on liberty he had been a slave-owner for nearly forty years, owning many people like Ardoch, Beniba and Martin, and he had made his fortune from their labour and from his trading and selling of the sugar they and other enslaved people produced.
Graham’s gift is among the 16 bursaries, endowments and mortifications donated between 1809 and 1937 that have a direct link to the profits from slavery, 11 of which generated subsequent income for the university until today. Some of these endowments were recived from former slave owners who had received compensation for losing slaved when slavery was abolished.
It is against this background that the University has laid out a series of activities as part of the reparative justice programme. It is also planning to increase the “racial diversity of students and staff and to reduce the degree
attainment gap” as well as to create an “interdisciplinary centre for the study of historical slavery and its
legacies, including modern slavery and trafficking”.
Also part of the recommendation is the collaboration between the University and the University of West Indies (UWI).
The move has been welcomed by UWI vice-chancellor and chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, Professor Hilary Beckles.
“I have looked closely at the report, reading it within the context of the University of Glasgow-University of the West Indies framework for mutual recognition and respect. The approach adopted by the University of Glasgow is commendable and is endorsed by the UWI as an excellent place to begin. Both universities are committed to excellent and ethical research, teaching and public service. I celebrate colleagues in Glasgow for taking these first steps and keenly anticipate working through next steps,” Beckles, one of the three external advisors to the report, said.
Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor, not only welcomed the report but also called on institutions that had benefited from the slave trade to make amends.
“Now, I think the country faces a very uncomfortable question which the Glasgow University report has raised once more: to what extent did slavery make Scotland great? We can have all the equality laws and anti-racism legislation we like, but if no other institutions, firms or organisations which also benefited from slavery declare this and seek to make amends then it’s all meaningless,” he said to the Guardian.
The conversation about reparations for slavery has been ongoing for years. In 2016, Jamaica demanded Britain to start making reparations for slavery, stating that it is the duty of the previous colonial master to alleviate the continued suffering of the Caribbean people.
A regional body known as the Caribbean Reparation Commission was set up to establish the case for reparations by the governments of all the former colonial powers. It set up a ten-step plan for the same.
An American researcher, Thomas Craemer of the University of Connecticut calculated how much reparations could cost and he ended up with an estimate of between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion in 2015. And this is just in the United States of America alone.
For Africa, reparations were at $777 trillion in 1999 as per the recommendations of the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission.
While the move by Glasgow University is in the right direction, it is just a drop in the ocean as far as reparations for slavery is concerned.