Speaker Spotlight: Sir Hilary Beckles by Andrew Cain

On Wednesday, November 1, at 4:30 PM in the Konover Auditorium, Sir Hilary Beckles will give a talk titled “The Greatest Political Movement of the 21st Century: Global Reparations for African Enslavement, Native Genocide and Colonisation.”


Should the descendants of slaves be compensated for the work of their ancestors? How much wealth have slaves generated in economic capitol? Is it possible to calculate pain and suffering? If so, what is the formula? Sir Hilary Beckles is an economic historian and international thought leader whose contributions to the study of the slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean has positioned him to be one of the world’s experts and leading figures in the conversations dealing with reparatory justice for slavery. The Vice Chancellor at the University of the West Indies. Beckles also serves as the Chair of the Caribbean Commission on Reparations.

In 1979 Beckles received his PhD in Economic and Social History from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. However, the study of psychology was Beckles original interest—and it is the interdisciplinary weaving of history, economics, and psychology which has positioned Beckles as one of the Caribbean’s best thinkers. In 1979 (the same year he received his PhD) Beckles began his professional career as a senior lecturer at the University of West Indies. After serving as Chair of the History Department and Dean of the Humanities Department, at the age of 36 Beckles became the youngest person to be promoted to the personal chair at the University of West Indies.

Beckles has published over 100 peer-reviewed essays and 12 books on subjects ranging from Atlantic and Caribbean History to the sport of cricket. In his book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide, Beckles explores the viability of reparations for Caribbean slavery. Slavery is very much so a personal topic for Beckles; he was born and raised on the Cumberbatch Plantation (a slave plantation) in St. Andrew’s Parish Barbados. In 2016, Beckles delivered a lecture at Oxford University where he recalls the experience of being born on a slave plantation. Beckles argues that colonial powers have left Caribbean countries with, which he terms, the “colonial mess” which includes social, economic, and political setbacks. Moreover, Beckles argues Caribbean colonialism has denied decedents of slaves’ access to their ancestry. For example, in the Caribbean 80 percent of black residents are unable to trace their ancestry beyond their great grandparents. Beckles connects this uncertain ancestry to his own ancestry by inquiring whether he is the cousin of actor Benedict Cumberbatch. And, unfortunately for Beckles (and most black people in the Caribbean) he will never have an answer. It is Beckles personal connection with slavery which drives his work and thinking about reparations. In addition to slavery and slave reparation, Beckles work focuses on the history the Caribbean and Barbados. In his book A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market, Beckles illuminates a history of Barbados, its origin and events that have shaped the country. Beckles has edited and co-authored 13 books. The most recent book he co-edited Rihanna: Barbados ‘World-Gurl’” in Global Popular Culture (2016), explores the rise of the global icon and musical sensation Rihanna.

In addition to his distinguished academic accomplishments, Beckles serves as a member on many United Nation Committees and Advisory Panels. In addition, Beckles is a member of UNDP’s Advisory Panel on the Caribbean Human Development Report.
Lastly, Beckles is a well-recognized and respected figure in Connecticut: in 2017, Hartford, Connecticut declared March 2nd “Hilary Beckles Day” in recognition of Beckles’ contribution to Caribbean studies, social justice and human equality. Beckles contribution to the field of economic history has provided new perspectives, ideas and has raised new questions to explore reparatory justice for slavery and the history of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean.