Scotland’s links to slave trade examined at University of Edinburgh 

Eminent historian Professor Earl Lewis will explore the country's past relationship with the slave trade.

Scotland’s past relationship with the slave trade is set to be examined as part of a discussion on racial justice and healing at the University of Edinburgh. 

Professor Earl Lewis of the University of Michigan will give a lecture, The Grace of Repair, on Thursday as part of the Distinguished Fulbright Lecture. 

The eminent historian will scrutinise key moments in UK and US history to explore how individuals and institutions have sought to repair the impact of slavery and systemic racism. 

Professor Lewis will also look at the 18th century slave ship origins of Amazing Grace to President Obama singing the hymn to mourners grieving the 2015 racist murders of Black parishioners in Charleston, North Carolina.

Lisa Williams, founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association and Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, guided the professor on a walking tour around Edinburgh to shine a light on the link the capital has with slavery, and mark the areas where noted abolitionists like Fredrick Douglas visited.

The event is part of the US-UK Fulbright Commission’s celebration of 75 years of impact in creating a global network of change makers and sector leaders through international exchange. 

Former speakers of the Distinguished Fulbright Lecture include US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, Professor of global public health Devi Sridhar, and former foreign secretary David Miliband. 

Over recent years local authorities and institutions have apologised for their historical participation and profiteering from slavery. 

Professor Earl Lewis’s lecture is one of the many conversations the University of Edinburgh community welcomes to begin addressing its colonial past. 

Maria Balinska, executive director of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, said: “We are honoured and delighted that Professor Lewis is delivering this year’s Distinguished Lecture.  

“The topic underlines that the Fulbright Commission’s work is just as relevant now as it was when it was created after World War II. We are facing immense global challenges.  

“International educational exchange programmes like ours are essential to helping address urgent issues such as racial injustice and inequality as they have the power to change our ways of thinking, to foster connections across borders, and to develop compassionate leaders who are committed to working together.” 

Professor Sarah Prescott, vice principal and head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Professor Lewis’ Fulbright Lecture is exceptionally timely as institutions across the world continue to reflect upon and attempt to find ways to repair connections to slavery, colonialism, and racial injustice.  

“The University of Edinburgh is also engaged in ongoing research into its own history and legacy of slavery and colonialism, Professor Lewis’ lecture will further enhance and support this important work.” 

Professor Earl Lewis is the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. 

He is also the founding director of Michigan’s Center for Social Solutions. From March 2013 to 2018, he served as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

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