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Caribbean commissions demand reparations for slavery from Church and King

13 September 2023


King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Crathie Parish Church, near Balmoral, after a service to mark the first anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, last Friday

King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Crathie Parish Church, near Balmoral, after a service to mark the first anniversary of the death of Queen E...

FORMAL demands for reparations for the slave trade are to be submitted to institutions, including the Church of England, by national reparations commissions in the Caribbean, the Daily Telegraph reported on Monday.

According to the report, the commissions want to “bypass” the British Government — which has refused to commit to reparations — and pursue financial payments directly from institutions with historical links to the slave trade. Formal letters are being prepared to send to these institutions by the end of this year, the newspaper understands. The Church of England was listed, alongside the royal family and Lloyds of London as institutions set to be approached;

Arley Gill, a lawyer who chairs Grenada National Reparations Commission, said: “We are hoping that King Charles will revisit the issue of reparations and make a more profound statement beginning with an apology, and that he would make resources from the royal family available for reparative justice.

“He should make some money available. We are not saying that he should starve himself and his family, and we are not asking for trinkets.”

There are currently national reparations committees in 12 Caribbean countries, all of whom are members of the Caribbean Reparation Commission (CARICOM), which first met ten years ago and is supported by the respective heads of government. CARICOM’s terms of reference are to: “Establish the moral, ethical and legal case for the payment of reparations by the Governments of all the former colonial powers and the relevant institutions of those countries, to the nations and people of the Caribbean community for the crimes against humanity of native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialized system of chattel slavery.”

In January, the Church Commissioners announced the creation of an “impact investment fund” worth £100 million, to mitigate the long-term consequences of their fund’s connection with the transatlantic slave trade through Queen Anne’s Bounty, the early 18th-century fund set up to support poor Anglican clergy (News, 13 January). Profits from the new fund will be used overseas to provide grants to “address some of the past wrongs”.

The initiative was announced at the same time as the publication of the Commissioners’ full and final report on links between the Bounty — which was merged into the rest of the Church of England’s endowment in 1948 — and transatlantic chattel slavery.

The report found that, from 1723 until 1777, Bounty funds not used to purchase land or pay running costs were invested “almost exclusively” in South Sea Company annuities. Analysis found that value of these holdings in 1739, when the South Sea Company ceased trading in enslaved people, was about £204,000. There are different methods by which to calculate an equivalent value, but a multiplier of average wages give a comparison figure of £443 million in today’s money.

In the third biannual report from the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice, published last month (News, 18 August), the chairman, Lord Boateng, celebrated the “ground-breaking and praiseworthy work” of the Church Commissioners “to quantify through an exercise of forensic accounting the Church of England’s benefit from slavery”.

The report includes a theological case for reparations, prepared by Professor Anthony Reddie, director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture. It also argues that an action can constitute reparation only if three criteria are met: it must be named as reparations, devised and run in conjunction with victims, and include elements targeted at affected individuals.

“If these are not present, the work done will simply be another form of the ‘development aid’ which we have seen implemented by DFID and other bodies over many decades,” it says. “The Church’s response should go beyond benevolence and seek to address those power imbalances that are themselves part of the legacy of slavery.”

When the Church Commissioners’ fund was announced, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that a deliberate decision not to use the term “reparations” had been taken, as the initiatives did not seek to compensate individuals, but were rather about “healing” and “making amends for the past”. Seeking to provide reparations, in a narrow sense, would be a “much less effective way of spending the money”, he argued.

In June, members of the Church Reparation Action Forum (CRAF) in Jamaica met representatives of Churches, including the Church of England, to discuss how Churches should repair relations with the people of Jamaica and other countries whose people were enslaved (News, 30 June).

The Revd Dr Collin Cowan, from the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, said that the funds set aside by the Church of England were “quite small in terms of the dislocation and damage that has happened, and we do not want to be too quick to accept the funds and miss the greater cause. When we get a public apology which is an acknowledgement that a wrong has been done, that will bring us into a better relationship.”

Last Friday, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) announced at a press conference in Barbados that it had pledged £7 million, to be spent in Barbados over the next ten to 15 years, as part of a project to address the wrongs of the past. “Renewal & Reconciliation: The Codrington Reparations Project” will take place in partnership with the Codrington Trust and the Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI), in Barbados.

A press release said that the work would include four strands, “in collaboration with the descendants of the enslaved; community development and engagement; historical research and education; burial places & memorialisation, and family research.”

“USPG is deeply ashamed of our past links to slavery” the general secretary of USPG, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, said. “We recognise that it is not simply enough to repent in thought and word, but we must take action, working in partnership with Codrington where the descendants of enslaved persons are still deeply impacted by the generational trauma that came from the Codrington Plantations”.

Dr Dormor had previously argued that there were “real dangers of such a numeric approach to the complex issue of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters”, when it was suggested that a debt of £1 million be paid (Letters, 26 June 2020).

In 1710, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG’s former name) received a bequest from Sir Christopher Codrington for two plantations in Barbados. Between 1710 and 1838, SPG benefited from the labour of enslaved persons on the Codrington Estate.

“It is our hope that, through this reparations project, there will be serious reckoning with the history of the relationship between the Codrington Trust and USPG, but also a process of renewal and reconciliation that will be healing of the pain of the past,” the Primate and Metropolitan of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, Dr Howard Gregory, said.

Church House declined to comment.

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