Education and Skills

University of Glasgow will pay £20 million in slavery reparations. Should other institutions follow its lead?

Taxis drive in George Square in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain May 14, 2019. Picture taken May 14, 2019.

Taxis drive in George Square in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain May 14, 2019. Picture taken May 14, 2019. Image: REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

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Scotland's University of Glasgow said on Friday it would spend 20 million pounds ($24.4 million) to make amends for the historic financial support it received from people who profited from the slave trade.

The university said it was co-founding a Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research with the University of the West Indies to host events, sponsor research work and raise public awareness about the history of slavery.

The money will be spent over the next 20 years, with funding mainly coming from research grants and donations.

"Talking about any institution's or country's historical links to slavery can be a difficult conversation but we felt it was a necessary one for our university to have," said Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow.

A donation of £100 paid on 23rd June 1870, made by Archibald Smith II of Jordanhill, who had interests in slave plantations in both Jamaica and Grenada. Image: Glasgow City Archives

"While you can't change the past, you can change (its) consequences."

A plaque at the Gilmorehill base of the university will mark that the building is built on the site of Gilmorehill House, which was owned by a notorious 18th century slaveowner.

Last year the University of Glasgow said it had received up to the equivalent of 198 million pounds ($242 million) in today's money from people who derived their wealth from slavery.

Glasgow said it deeply regretted this part of its past which clashed with its parallel history of support for the abolition of slavery, and started a programme of reparative justice.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Glasgow professors John Millar, Patrick Wilson and John Young were active participants in Glasgow's abolitionist movement. Millar sent two anti-slave trade petitions to parliament in 1788 and 1792.

In the biggest deportation in known history, weapons and gunpowder from Europe were swapped for millions of African slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas. Ships returned to Europe with sugar, cotton and tobacco.

Around 17 million African men, women and children were torn from their homes and shackled into one of the world's most brutal globalised trades between the 15th and 19th centuries. Many died in merciless conditions.

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Those who survived endured a life of subjugation on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations. Britain abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807 although the full abolition of slavery did not follow for another generation.

Other British universities are also seeking to confront their history of involvement with the slave trade.

The University of Cambridge will conduct a two-year study of how much it benefited from the Atlantic slave trade and whether its scholars reinforced race-based thinking during Britain's colonial era.

Oxford University has launched several projects aimed at tackling its relationship and links to colonialism, but in 2016 decided not to remove a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who bequeathed a large sum to Oriel College, endowed a university scholarship and is considered one of the founders of South African racial segregation.

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