Professor Trevor Burnard, Director at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, speaks about Britain’s long history and involvement with the Caribbean, as the nation marks Windrush Day 2020.
Britain’s involvement with the Caribbean is one of its most lasting and important global connections.
It is also among its most complicated. Britain has looked to the Caribbean for wealth, plunder, and empire, as in the days of Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh and during the lengthy period of slavery and the slave trade.
In the mid-twentieth century, the people of the British Caribbean – largely the descendants of African slaves brought by Britain to work on sugar plantations in the eighteenth century who had been freed but not liberated from oppression in the nineteenth century – started to come to Britain in large numbers.
Many served in the Armed Forces as part of the peoples of the empire opposing fascism. West Indians showed their commitment to Britain in that conflict and then again as immigrants from the late 1940s onward.
On 22 June, the country will mark the second ever Windrush Day, as we honour the contributions made by West Indians to the making of Britain past, present and future. It also celebrates the iconic arrival of the Windrush ship in Tilbury, Essex, in 1948. It was this landmark which created the `Windrush generation’ of immigrants, whose presence in Britain has made this country immeasurably richer in so many ways.
The University of Hull, one of whose Vice-Chancellors (Sir Roy Marshall, 1979-85) was part of the wartime West Indian migration, has many distinguished graduates from the West Indies. The current Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, is an alumnus from our own University. Through our Wilberforce Institute and other areas of the university, Hull has a well-established knowledge in Caribbean history and society.
As demonstrations continue around the world in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Windrush Day this year seems more poignant than ever. 22 June provides an opportunity to both reflect on the past, and Britain’s own involvement in the slave trade and exploitation of African people for labour. There is much to be learned from history, but more important still, much we must still learn and act on to ensure equality and diversity for all.