Seventy-five years ago, a brilliant, young academic at Oxford University, Eric Williams, published Capitalism and Slavery, connecting the economic aspects between the abolition of the slave trade and West Indian slavery.
Recently, the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC), in collaboration with The UWI Centre for Reparation Research and the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the St Augustine Campus hosted an international symposium December 13-14 to examine the impact of Dr Eric Williams and his work on the contemporary Caribbean and wider world. This Caribbean perspective joined similar commemorative activities taking place all over the world, including Africa, Britain, and the United States, said a media release.
UWI St Augustine Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Brian Copeland noted that Williams has been an integral part of the history of the campus from inception, “He served as the first and only Pro-Chancellor of the UWI and was instrumental, as were other prime ministers at the time, in setting the current framework for The UWI while being a strong advocate for the State playing a significant role in supporting the UWI.”
He expressed his appreciation for the symposium which brought together scholars, intellectuals, corporate interest groups, artists, and activists. “It provides us with an opportunity to discuss his legacy with the next generation of Caribbean leaders and intellectuals. This body of work is certainly culturally important not just to Caribbean students, but is part of the knowledge base of civilisation as we know it,” said Copeland.
When Capitalism and Slavery was first published, its groundbreaking work ignited scholarly debate and became the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development, the release said.
Keynote speaker Professor Verene Shepherd, director of The UWI Centre for Reparation Research, explained that using the evidence from Capitalism and Slavery as the foundational text and adding other books on similar themes published since, along with Archival Records to which Dr Williams may have access or perhaps never thought of using, the governments of Caricom, through the CRC, have articulated the justification for the reparation demand.
“The CRC stresses that the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of crimes against humanity in the forms of genocide, enslavement, human trafficking, deceptive Asian indentureship and racial apartheid have a legal right to reparatory justice, and that those who committed these crimes, and who have been enriched by the proceeds of these crimes, have a reparatory case to answer,” Shepherd said.
Also attending the symposium was Erica Williams-Connell, daughter of Eric Williams, who spearheaded the establishment of the Eric Williams Memorial Collection at the St Augustine Campus. Students from secondary schools also attended the event,