World‑renowned scholar to explore slavery and reparations in keynote ahead of landmark conference

- October 27, 2021

Sir Hilary Beckles. (Provided photo)
Sir Hilary Beckles. (Provided photo)

One of the world’s leading lights in the scholarship of slavery and social justice will deliver a keynote lecture next week to set the stage for an influential U.S.-based academic consortium’s first Canadian-led conference to be held in Halifax in 2023.

Sir Hilary Beckles, a professor and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and renowned scholar and global activist, will offer reflections on the theme of slavery and reparations during an online talk November 1.

The keynote is part of a pre-conference event — Slavery and Reparations: African Nova Scotia, Canada and Beyond — for the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) Conference to be hosted in Halifax by Dalhousie and the University of King’s College in partnership with the Black Cultural Centre (BCC) for Nova Scotia from October 18-21, 2023.  

USS is a consortium created and led by the University of Virginia examining slavery’s role in higher education and its legacies. Both Dalhousie and King’s have explored their own historical intersections with slavery through separate scholarly inquiries and committed to further academic work in this area.

The Halifax event will mark the first USS conference to be held outside the U.S.

Isaac Saney, chair of the organizing committee for the USS conference and director of the Transition Year Program at Dalhousie, sees the 2023 event as the next step forward in examining slavery's potent legacy.

“While the history of slavery has been in our curriculum, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought a certain urgency for us to address the ongoing impact of the Atlantic triangular slave trade on people of African descent, in particular, and society and the world, in general," says Dr. Saney, whose research focuses on Cuban Affairs and African Studies.

"This conference is designed to create a space for earnest and respectful conversations on this global issue and to specifically reflect on Canada and Nova Scotia’s presence in the triangle."

Learn more: Report on Lord Dalhousie’s History on Slavery and Race

King's and Slavery: A Scholarly Inquiry

'An important dialogue'

By examining the topic of slavery and reparations with the African Nova Scotian experience in mind, the pre-conference event will help set the tone for the broader USS conference.

Sir Hilary has achieved recognition internationally, in part, for advocating that universities fully acknowledge how they benefitted from their past actions.

“It was the university sector more than any other that strengthened the ideological and public base of slavery,” he told Times Higher Education in an article on redressing slavery published this September.

Sir Hilary’s leadership in this area — he is chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and president of Universities Caribbean, among other roles — complements his scholarly contributions, including more than 100 peer-reviewed essays in scholarly journals and more than 13 books on subjects ranging from Atlantic and Caribbean History, gender relations in the Caribbean, sport development and popular culture.

For Russell Grosse, executive director of the BCC, next week's pre-conference event and the forthcoming USS conference are critical in helping Black and African Nova Scotian communities move forward.

"Nova Scotia is the home of the oldest and largest multi-generational Black communities in Canada, many who have had to overcome great adversity over the decades," says Grosse. "Exploring the impacts of slavery and the effect it has had on our ancestors is an important dialogue. The pre-conference event will set the tone as we explore the realities of the practice of slavery in 2023."

Next week’s pre-conference event will begin with a panel discussion at 3 p.m. ahead of the keynote lecture, set to start at 6 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time.

Panelists include:

Cikiah Thomas
, co-chair of Global Afrikan Congress

Delvina Bernard, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (EDIA) Advisor at Mount Saint Vincent University

Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center

Afua Cooper, associate professor at Dalhousie and chair of the Scholarly Panel on Lord Dalhousie's Relationship to Race and Slavery and co-author of the panel's report

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to receive the Zoom link here.


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