When King Charles of Britain is formally crowned as the United Kingdom’s monarch in a glittering ceremony early next month, royal monitors and people around the globe will be watching to see if Britain finally apologizes for the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade in which the UK played a leading role.
Since the Dutch government formally said in late December it was sorry for its role in the genocide, London is under increasing pressure to not only apologize for slavery but also to begin reparations talks with Caribbean governments.
Caribbean governments have long written to Britain and other European governments asking for a formal sit-down to discuss the issue, but Britain has stalled even as the Dutch appear ready to lead the way in any reparatory justice talks.
In the past week, some prominent British citizens have not only said they will join the reparations movement, but have also set up a group called “Heirs of Slavery.” They said that the time has come for them to get involved in correcting a grave injustice to people of African descent, even as they called on the British government to begin long-demanded talks with the region.
Announcing the establishment of the group on Monday, members said that its numbers include descendants of many families who are easily able to trace their history back to that era and the role their ancestors played in enslaving Africans. It includes writers, journalists, businesspeople, members of the British aristocracy, and other figures. Recently retired BBC journalist Laura Trevelyan, author Richard Atkinson, and journalist Alex Renton—eputed to be the son of a former British cabinet minister—are among its members.
The group says it wants the world to know that a significant portion of their family wealth came from slave plantations and the trade in the Caribbean in general. The plan is to support “the ongoing consequences of this crime against humanity. British slavery was legal, industrialized, and based entirely on race,” Renton said to the Guardian. “Britain has never apologized for it, and its after-effects still harm people’s lives in Britain as well as in the Caribbean countries where our ancestors made money.”
Britain has been under increasing pressure to own up to its sins of slavery, as Prince William and his wife found out on a three-nation regional tour last year. The royal party was met with protests and objections in every country. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness surprised everyone when he bluntly told the visitors that Jamaica was planning to dump whoever is the British monarch as its head of state and become a republic.
Since then, a constitutional reform team has been established and just last week recommended to the cabinet and parliament that Jamaica’s switch to a republic should be made very soon.
Prince Charles, soon to become King Charles, did speak about the horrors of slavery during a ceremony in Barbados in late 2021, when the island became a republic and ditched then-Queen Elizabeth as its head of state and installed a local as president. Other Caribbean nations have been making similar rumblings in recent months.
“We encourage the hundreds of thousands of people in Britain with similar family history to explore and acknowledge them,” said Atkinson. “.Until the painful legacy of slavery is recognized by the descendants of those who profited from it, there can never be healing.”
“I joined this group in an attempt to begin to address the appalling ills visited on so many people by my ancestor, John Gladstone,” said descendant Charles Gladstone.
Caribbean governments have already hired a British law firm that had won millions for descendants of Kenyan tribesmen who were slaughtered by British soldiers in the colonial era to represent them. The attorneys say the region has a strong case even as the umbrella reparations commission is continuing its years of research as it builds its case against Britain and other European countries.