Descendants of UK slave owners apologize to government

Descendants of some of Britain’s wealthiest slave owners have launched an activist movement, calling on the government to both apologize for slavery and initiate a restorative justice program in recognition of the “ongoing consequences of this crime against humanity.” “.

A second cousin of King Charles and a direct descendant of the Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone have joined forces with journalists, a publisher, a teacher and a retired social worker to create the campaign body for the Heirs of Slavery, which it will pressure the UK government to acknowledge and atone for its role in transporting 3.1 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic.

“British slavery was legal, industrialized and based entirely on race,” said Alex Renton, one of the group’s founders. “Britain has never apologized for this, and its consequences continue to harm people’s lives in Britain as well as in the Caribbean countries where our ancestors made money.”

The group includes the Earl of Harewood, David Lascelles, retired social worker Rosemary Harrison, businessman Charles Gladstone, former BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan, his director cousin John Dower, author and editor Richard Atkinson, retired teacher Robin Wedderburn and journalist Alex Renton. They hope that descendants of other slave-owning dynasties will join them.

Members of the group acknowledge that their families’ wealth derived in part from profits made on plantations worked by enslaved Africans. Their slave-owning ancestors all received compensation from the British government after slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833.

The group supports restorative justice plans devised by Caricom – the political union of 20 Caribbean countries. The Caricom Reparations Commission says European governments have ordered genocidal actions against indigenous communities and have failed to acknowledge their crimes or compensate the victims and their descendants. His 10-point plan for restorative justice calls for a full formal apology, debt relief and calls on former colonial powers to invest in their health and education systems.

Asked whether the descendants of families who received compensation from the British government in 1833 should be encouraged to pay back some of that money, Lascelles, whose ancestors received around £26,000, said: ‘That should certainly be part of the discussion.’

In a written statement, Charles Gladstone said: “I have joined this group in an attempt to begin addressing the terrible ills that have befallen so many people since my ancestor John Gladstone.” John Gladstone, father of Prime Minister William Gladstone, was awarded £106,000 in compensation after the abolition (worth at least £17m today).

Laura Trevelyan

Laura Trevelyan said last month she was leaving the BBC to become a full-time slavery reparations campaigner. Photography: David Levenson/Getty Images

Last month, Trevelyan said she was leaving the BBC to become a full-time slavery reparation campaigner and announced that she and her relatives had donated £100,000 to education projects in Grenada.

Renton, the son of a Conservative cabinet minister, said the group wanted to use inherited privilege to lobby the government for change. “As descendants of wealthy families, we have inherited disproportionate influence and power in modern Britain. We are encouraging everyone in this position to see what they can do to help,” he said.

Renton’s 2021 book Blood Legacy, which investigates his family’s slave-owning past, prompted other descendants of slave-owning families to contact him asking for advice on what they should do. As well as pointing people to charities, he hopes the new group will work to bolster existing campaigns, calling for apologies and restorative justice.

“We are keen not to do what people like me are educated to do, which is be the center of attention and try to take charge of things, but instead offer our skills to support the hard work that others are doing Renton said.

Richard Atkinson, a Penguin editor, also researched his family’s slave-owning background. “There must be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families in this country who have a side of that story. Individuals should give money, according to their means and their conscience, but it’s too big an issue to be just individuals,” he said. Political parties should write restorative justice pledges in their manifestos, he said.

Olivette Otele, Distinguished Research Professor of Slavery Memory at SOAS, University of London, gave a cautious welcome. She said: “It’s an important and potentially transformative initiative, but it needs to be more than half a dozen people. There are many, many other people who should be on that list.”

He stressed that it was important to make sure the group partnered with movements that already exist, to avoid being labeled white saviors, “trying to tackle racism on our own… But I want to applaud that. It reminds me of the movement to abolish the slave trade, where you had enslaved people in the Caribbean fighting for their freedom, but you also had abolitionists in European capitals, and it was this partnership that ended slavery.” he said .

The announcement follows a recent surge in support for the reparations movement. Last December, the Netherlands became the first major national government to apologize for its role in enslaving Africa; Mark Rutte, the prime minister, has formally apologized and pledged to commit £200m of government funds for restoration work in the former Dutch colonies.

The Guardian published research into its founders’ ties to slavery this month, and King Charles recently signaled his support for research into the British monarchy’s historical ties to transatlantic slavery. The all-party parliamentary group on African reparations will host a meeting on Tuesday to discuss “why now is the time for an official apology for African slavery”.

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