By Orville Williams
A boost to Antigua and Barbuda’s education system in the form of scholarships to Harvard University could be on the cards, as calls from the twin island nation for slavery reparations intensify.
This week, the Massachusetts-based institution revealed that it is committing US$100 million to establish a legacy of slavery fund, with President Lawrence Bacow explaining that “some of these funds will be available for current use, while the balance will be held in an endowment to support this work over time”.
That fund is just one component of Harvard’s acknowledgment of its past, as slavery and racism played a big role in its institutional history.
A report titled ‘Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery’ declared that the university and its donors benefitted from the slave trade into the 19th century and, for more than 100 years, Harvard presidents and others enslaved more than 70 people.
That history is not confined to Massachusetts or the United States, but actually originated right here in Antigua, when the son of Isaac Royall – a plantation owner and slave trader in the north of the island – made a donation to create the first Harvard professorship of law.
It is that landmark event that has fuelled Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s insistence that Harvard owes Antigua and Barbuda reparations.
In a letter to Bacow in 2019, PM Browne called on the university to consider paying those reparations, and ask that it be directed – by way of educational development – to the University of the West Indies’ Five Islands campus.
The UWI has since signed an agreement with its counterpart to offer lifelong learning courses with the Harvard School of Business and its Credential of Readiness (CORe) programme.
Now, the PM is looking for more from Harvard, with this week’s post-Cabinet report stating he “anticipates receiving a number of scholarships each year from Harvard for the brightest of Antigua and Barbuda youth to study at this prestigious university, built in part by the profits from slavery and the slave trade in Antigua”.
It is not immediately clear whether these scholarships would be derived from the aforementioned legacy of slavery fund.
In his 2019 letter to Bacow, Browne had noted that several higher education institutions like the Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Glasgow have already committed reparations to Antigua and Barbuda.
The PM’s comments come just days after raising the issue of slavery and reparations during discussions with British royals who visited Antigua as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.