An historical irony of significant magnitude
February 8, 2022
An historical irony of significant magnitude

Last Friday, SEARCHLIGHT’s inhouse historian and columnist Dr Adrian Fraser added another dimension to the delightful story of the students from St Vincent and the Grenadines who have been awarded scholarships to read for undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Wales Trinity St David (UWTSD). He revealed in his usual understated style that the link between St Vincent and the Grenadines and UWTSD is deeper than most of us could have imagined and goes back over 200 years to the early 19th century.

It turns out that Thomas Phillips, one of the University’s benefactors was for 30 years, up to the time of his death, the owner of the Campden Park estate in St Vincent. Phillips was also a slaveowner as the records show that shortly after he acquired the estate, he was able to acquire 85 enslaved people from the island of Carriacou.

The award of the scholarships and the arrival of our students on the campus of the University is an historical irony of significant magnitude.  The wheels of time have produced a reality which neither the slaveowners nor the enslaved could have imagined 200 years ago. The world has been transformed to such a degree that this act of reparation was allowed to unfold. 

The University has yet to say if the connection between its benefactor and St Vincent played any role in their decision to award the scholarships. However even if they consider the scholarships an intentional act of confronting the past, atoning for past sins, and redemption through acts of contrition, there is an aspect to these developments that is even more important.

The kinds of transformations which history imposes over time are beyond the capacity of the oppressors to grasp AT THE TIME when they believed their power to be absolute and permanently inscribed in the ‘Book of Time’. But “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”  Times change.  And it reveals in the starkest way possible that the humanity that the slave master once denied to the enslaved is now the very source for the redemption of the children of the slave master.

So the University can embrace this moral act, this virtuous genuflection to a shared humanity because the children of the enslaved possess the balm of absolution.  We can and do extend the hand of grace to them, fully aware that they were the beneficiaries of the greatest historical injustice and we were the victims.  But confident in our humanity and free in our intellect, we join hands with them. We do not forget the past.  But we are stronger when we acknowledge it.