Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, leads the regional reparations movement, as Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. (Image courtesy The UWI)

The following is a statement issued by The UWI’s Vice-Chancellor Hilary Beckles, in response to the University’s receipt of a US$500,000 reparation payment from UK Philanthropist, Bridget Freeman.

On the heels of the University of Glasgow’s agreement to enter into a £20 million reparation programme with The University of the West Indies, apologizing for its financial participation in the Caribbean slave economy, an English woman has agreed to pay reparations for her family’s involvement in slavery.

Bridget Freeman, a British citizen has agreed to contribute US$500,000 to the University’s development fund—through its 2021 Global Giving campaign. The philanthropist described being ‘horrified and touched’ by the discussion on the impact of slavery on the region today. She agreed that reparations should be paid by those who benefitted from the crime against humanity. “It is not right”, she said, “We owe it… the giving back just seems so obvious.”

Bridget’s family married into the Barbados slave-owning class and became involved in its development. As an accomplished musician, she has also declared an intention to contribute to the newly established Faculty of Culture, Creative and Performing Arts at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.

It’s a seminal moment in the regional reparations movement. Bridget Freeman should be celebrated as a citizen who has broken ranks with British white supremacy, conservatism and has become an activist reparationist.

Bridget has accepted her responsibility and willingness to be held accountable. In this regard, she is a reparations hero, and we hope that the millions of other British citizens in her position will step up, come forward, and participate in the healing and development that is reparations.

The reparation investment will be directed to needy students in order to sustain the access revolution that is central to Caribbean development and to the University’s strategic plan.

Bridget Freeman’s story

UK philanthropist, Bridget Freeman has bequeathed her properties worth US$500,000 to The UWI, through its Global Giving fund, and reserved her grand piano for The UWI, Cave Hill Campus. (Image courtesy The UWI)

The UWI Regional Headquarters in Jamaica issued the following statement concerning Mrs Freeman’s reparations payment, on Friday 20th August 2021…

It was a series about the Atlantic slave trade on the BBC that shocked Bridget Freeman.  Up until then, she knew almost nothing about the plight of free Africans who boarded ships and were taken throughout the world and sold into slavery.

“I was horrified and it touched me and I thought dear God, this is not right” she said.

Mrs Freeman, an accomplished musician was born in the United Kingdom of Irish background, and adopted at the end of World War II by a couple in their 40s.  She has lived in the UK for most of her life.  However, some of her relatives left the UK for the Caribbean. One such, was her mother’s brother, Billy Hopkins.  As the story goes, ‘Uncle Billy’, the last Master of the King’s Music in Ireland, became a priest and migrated to Barbados where he married Marion, a local Barbadian woman whose family were plantation and slave owners—another revelation that horrified Bridget Freeman.

Married twice, first to Barry Marshall and then to Bernard Freeman, Mrs Freeman has remained close to her former sister-in-law, Reverend Sylvia McLarnon. Together with the advice of Reverend McLarnon and Bernard Freeman, her late husband; Mrs Freeman made a bold and remarkable decision about her legacy.

“My late husband said: ‘you’ve got to do the right thing’.  There was always a feeling of what do I do with all I have? The young people in the family are doing alright and they don’t need a step-up” said Mrs Freeman. 

Further research led her to The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and its Executive Director of Institutional Advancement, Mrs Elizabeth Buchanan Hind.

Mrs Buchanan Hind is also Chair of UWI Global Giving—the regional university’s annual crowdfunding campaign which was established in 2016. Each year the campaign kicks off on August 1, which in many Caribbean territories is the observance of Emancipation Day, marking the freedom of enslaved Africans who were victims of the transatlantic slave trade. While The UWI honours and pays tribute to that past, it recognises that education is one of the most critical means to freedom and propelling regional development.

Under the theme “Emancipate, Educate, Donate,” UWI Global Giving is grounded in The UWI’s vision to facilitate an ‘access revolution’ for higher education in the Caribbean, calling on the support of regional and international alumni, partners, the diaspora and friends to give. Over the past five years, this giving campaign has become part of The UWI’s culture. However, the 2021 campaign has even greater significance with a focus on funding scholarships and bursaries for students who are in difficult social circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through her generosity, Bridget Freeman has bequeathed her properties worth half a million US dollars (US$500,000) to The UWI, through its Global Giving campaign, and noted that her grand piano is being kept in tune for the Cave Hill Campus as a contribution to the University’s new Faculty of Culture, Creative and Performing Arts.

Vice-Chancellor of The UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said the University community welcomes Mrs Freeman’s generous endowment, describing it as “an honourable demonstration of personal reparation and moral leadership on behalf of her family”.  He added that her commitment to turning her awareness into action is deeply appreciated and will go a long way to providing freedom and fulfilment through the gift of education for many Caribbean students.

Now in her late 70s Bridget Freeman’s care, research and warm conscience, has led her to becoming an unlikely philanthropist and accepting The UWI’s invitation to get involved as a co-patron of Global Giving 2021. “It is about reparation” she said. “We owe it. Once you see the ships of the slave trade, the giving back just seems so obvious”.

According to the Most Honourable PJ Patterson, one of the co-patrons of UWI Global Giving, “The gift from Mrs Freeman is greatly applauded, as well as her agreement to sign on to be part of our giving campaign.”

Other co-patrons for UWI Global Giving 2021 include UWI Chancellor Emeritus Sir George Alleyne; UWI Honorary Graduate and Co-Patron of The UWI Toronto Gala, Dr. Donette Chin-Loy Chang and UWI Alumnus and Attorney–at- law, Mr. Jezeel Martin.

UWI Global Giving

Throughout August and September, persons interested in giving to The UWI are invited to visit www.uwi.edu/giving.  Those seeking more information, or who wish to make an alternative contribution to UWI Global Giving can contact the Institutional Advancement Division in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at 876-977-0052, or email [email protected].  

Follow, like and share the 2021 UWI Global Giving campaign on social media at the hashtags #GivetoUWI #UWIGlobalGiving and #UWIGG2021.