At a time when Harvard University finds itself debating the ways controversial history is remembered on campus, Caribbean historian Sir Hilary M. Beckles says the best way to deal with a thorny past is confronting it head on, according to reports.
“There’s no point in burying the legacy and memories,” said Sir Hilary in delivering the keynote address, at Harvard Law School, on reparatory justice for Caribbean countries that facilitated the slave trade.
He was joined by other Harvard professors on the panel in the Law School’s Ames courtroom, reported on Tuesday The Harvard Crimson, America’s oldest continuously published daily college newspaper.
“Let us bring everything to the surface and find a way forward through all of this,” said Sir Hilary, who is also Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), at the Ivy League law school, considered among the leading law schools in the United States and the world.
The Crimson – which is proud of its legacy of alumni active in journalism, business, public service and politics – noted that the Caribbean played an integral role in the international slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Beckles said “the West will be on trial” until it amends for the role its former colonies played in facilitating slavery.
As chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Committee, founded by Caribbean national governments in 2013 to establish a case for reparations to nations in the region, Beckles referenced a 10-point plan he has developed alongside a commission of inquiry to best “formulate a strategy for reparative justice to move the society forward,” the Crimson said.
“Reparative justice is not about black people standing on the street corners expecting charities from white folks,” Beckles said. “This is about building of bridges across lines of moral justice.”
He called on Western world leaders to atone for their countries’ wrongdoing by investing in housing, education, healthcare, social justice, and infrastructure development in the Caribbean countries, the Crimson said.
Specifically, it said Beckles urged United States President Barack Obama to use his global influence to push the world towards increased reparative justice.
Sir Hilary said he hoped that, the next time he is invited to Harvard Law School, it would be for the opening ceremony of an “Obama Center for Reparative Justice.”
As of Monday, Law School activists were a week into their occupation of the Caspersen Student Center lounge as they called for increased resources devoted to minority students and a change in the school’s seal, which was adopted from the slaveholding Royall family’s crest, the Crimson said.
While he did not delve deeply into the current protests at the Law School, Sir Hilary urged young people to ensure they are learning in ethical environments, the Crimson said.
Alexander J. Clayborne, a third-year Law School student who has helped organize protests, attended the event and said he found the talk “powerful,” especially as it pertained to both global and current events at Harvard University.
Harvard History professor Sven Beckert, who moderated the event, also linked Sir Hilary’s remarks to current issues at the university.
“This is not just a story from long time ago, but a story that is very local and very much about this University as well,” Beckert said.
Harvard professors Annette Gordon Reed, Kenneth W. Mack and Vincent Brown also participated in the panel discussion.
Past editors of the Crimson included late U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (Class of 1904) and John F. Kennedy (Class of 1940).