Eloquent words from Barbados

Barbadian Minister calls on Richard Drax to make reparation and restitution

Trevor Prescod, MP for St Michael East, Barbados, a JP and Barbadian Minister for the Environment and Beautification, spoke recently to members of the South Dorset Labour Party about Richard Drax’s refusal to make reparation and restitution for what Trevor described as “crimes against humanity”.

Hundreds of thousands of slaves from West Africa had lived short and desperate lives on the sugar plantations owned by the Drax family. The island of Barbados, and indeed, the Caribbean nations, were still exhibiting the wounds of slavery.

Drax Hall, the sugar plantation established by Richard Drax’s ancestor, James Drax, was still owned by South Dorset’s Conservative MP.

One member of the South Dorset Labour Party, Grafton Straker, said that he had been born in Trevor’s constituency, not far from Drax Hall.

Pretends not to know

But Richard Drax, said Trevor, “pretends not to know” about his family’s historic enrichment through slavery. He refuses to engage in conversation with Barbadians about his family’s history. Barbadians are unable to engage in a “reasonable and rational” way with him.

Trevor said that Richard Drax comes from a “long line of slave masters”. The Drax family had grown rich from the produce of Barbados for over four hundred years.

James Drax had come to Barbados in the 1630’s and purchased 700 acres of land for £300. He had pioneered the model of slavery which was copied across the Caribbean and the Americas. As the most successful slave owner on the island, he had established the foundations of his family’s fortune.

The Drax’s lived in “great comfort”: his descendants had risen in social status back in England, becoming MPs and living in style in great country houses.

Drax Hall was still there, a reminder of the family’s past enrichment from the practice of slavery. Along with the Codrington plantation, it had been at the heart of slavery in Barbados.

Dehumanising ideology

The practice of slavery had been justified and endorsed by an ideology which was predicated upon slaves being regarded as property, or “chattels”, not as human beings. A master owned a slave in the same way as he would own a horse.

Most slaves would die in their thirties – it was rare for a slave to live to the age of 45.

Slaves were deprived of their culture – they were “de-cultured” as well as dehumanised. The drum was banned. Slaves were deprived of their spirituality. They could not practice their ancestral faiths. They lost their languages. There were 50 languages spoken on the West Coast of Africa – languages lost in the sugar fields of the plantations.

James Drax, said Trevor, was the “pioneer” – other slave owners followed his example.

Trevor said that Drax must engage in conversation with Barbadians so that there could be a chance for reparation and reconciliation.

The cruelty of trans-Atlantic slavery

Life for slaves in Barbados had been appallingly cruel. Trevor spoke of cruel and unusual punishments – slaves being torn apart by horses or broken on the wheel. No slave owner was ever punished for killing or maiming slaves.

The Drax’s, said Trevor, invested in slave ships. Their captains kidnapped black people in West Africa. Slaves would be sold in Barbados for £10 – £15. Slave auctions were degrading and dehumanising spectacles.

Sick slaves were thrown overboard during the “Middle Passage” to drown in the Atlantic. In Barbados, slaves were buried without dignity in mass graves. They were worked to death in the plantations, malnourished and cruelly treated.

All the profit, Trevor said, went to the Drax’s, and back to England.

The Barbadian and Caribbean peoples were trying “to move to a higher form of democracy”. They wanted to right past wrongs. They “wanted to educate Mr Drax”.

Did he know, for example, Trevor said, that in James Drax’s will there was a statement that he had been “blessed” by the ownership of chattel slaves?

Refusing to say sorry

The riches of Barbados had gone to the Drax family alone. Yet Richard Drax “refused to say sorry”.

The slave population of Barbados had for long been left deprived of any opportunities for education. Learning, said the slave masters, will mean “these animals become ambitious”.

It was not until 1833 that the black population were taught the “three r’s” – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Now there were black scholars of international renown: Professor Beckles, Dr Shepherd and C L R James. A black intelligentsia was examining black history in the Caribbean. Now, people could see things as they really were.

Slavery had left a toxic legacy in the Caribbean.

In the 1930’s there had been social unrest in the Caribbean: the issues still remained.

Awareness of past evils

Richard Drax, said Trevor, needed to have a “civilised conversation” with the people of Barbados.

The legacies of slavery included poverty and homelessness.

Even now, on the Drax Hall estate, there were reports that there were not enough toilets for the field workers.

A just cause

“You are on to a just cause”, said Trevor “we cannot fight it alone. We call upon our comrades in Dorset. We have to fight”. My Prime Minister, said Trevor, is leading the campaign for reparation. She heads a task force for this: “do what you can – the (Barbadian) Labour Party has always represented the workers of Barbados”.

Slavery was a crime against humanity, and reflected the pernicious ideology of white supremacy.

Richard Drax must face up to his family’s past. He should engage in a conversation, with the people of Barbados, about that past.