As the British missions agency USPG confronts a slave-holding part of its history in Barbados, it has committed £7 million ($18 million Barbadian) to tangible repentance. USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) announced the commitment in Barbados on September 8.
“USPG is deeply ashamed of our past links to slavery,” said the Rev. Duncan Dormor, general secretary. “We recognize that it is not simply enough to repent in thought and word, but we must take action, working in partnership with Codrington, where the descendants of enslaved persons are still deeply impacted by the generational trauma that came from the Codrington Plantations.”
“It is our hope that, through this reparations project, there will be serious reckoning with the history of the relationship between the Codrington Trust and USPG, but also a process of renewal and reconciliation that will be healing of the pain of the past,” said Archbishop Howard Gregory, primate and metropolitan of the West Indies.
In 1710, Christopher Codrington, a prominent Barbadian planter, bequeathed two large sugar estates to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Church of England’s primary mission agency for North and Central America. Between 1710 and 1838, SPG profited from the labor of slaves on the Codrington Estate. The plantations were operated by managers on the church’s behalf, and some have suggested that they were operated on a “work to death” policy, as four of every ten slaves bought by the plantations in 1740 died within three years of arrival.
Codrington College, the Anglican seminary for the West Indies, was built on one of the plantations, and plantation proceeds were used to finance its operations. Codrington’s original request that a portion of his bequest be used to educate the enslaved population of Barbados was never honored.
USPG’s press conference to announce the Codrington Reparations Project met at Codrington College.
David Comissiong, deputy chairman of the Barbados National Task Force on Reparations, told Jenique Belgrave of Barbados Today that the $18 million pledge does not qualify as reparations. Reparations involved negotiations with the task force and the CARICOM Reparations Commission, led by Sir Hilary Beckles.
“We certainly appreciate the gesture of the $18 million project, but at the same time, you need to know that that is not reparations. If it is a unilateral gesture on your part, it is not reparations,” he said.
“We need to point out to the Church of England and all similar institutions that reparations are not about them unilaterally determining what compensation they are prepared to make,” he said. “Reparations do not work like that.”
Three years ago, Beckles invited the Church of England to enter conversations with CARICOM about possible reparations.
“Apologies are not enough,” he said then. “Apologies are precursors for reparations. Apologies are signals of an intent to participate in a reparatory process. Apologies are stage one of an effort that says, ‘We acknowledge the harm that we have caused and we are prepared to enter phase two, which is a discussion and a negotiation about how to repair that harm and suffering that continues to be the legacy in the Caribbean today.”
USPG agrees that making amends is a long-term project. Its pledge is meant to cover work spanning 10 to 15 years. The project is expected to begin in the spring of 2024. USPG leaders said the project will include community engagement and infrastructure, historical research and education, burial places and memorials, and family research.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Clavier wrote about the history of sugar plantations in an essay for TLC’s weblog, Covenant, in 2020.
“In many respects, 18th-century Barbados presaged our own world,” Clavier wrote. “Compared to two-thirds of the world, Westerners enjoy high levels of affluence in a society increasingly stratified between the super-wealthy and the poor. While we no longer engage overtly in slavery, our economy remains dependent on the availability of cheap labor, which in many places all but equates to slavery. Cheap labor and the demand for cheap goods, in turn, begets an economy that’s swiftly destroying the environment. We’re exhausting fertile soil on a global level as quickly as the slave-owning planters did their own in Barbados.”