Philanthropist donates $1M to UWI as personal reparation
A UK philanthropist has bequeathed her properties worth US$500,000 (BDS$1 million) to The University of the West Indies (UWI) – a move which the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles has described as “an honourable demonstration of personal reparation and moral leadership on behalf of her family”.
The donation from Bridget Freeman was made through UWI Global Giving, the regional university’s annual crowdfunding campaign that was established in 2016. Freeman said her grand piano is also being kept in tune for the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados as a contribution to the new Faculty of Culture, Creative and Performing Arts.
Sir Hilary said the university community welcomed Freeman’s generous endowment. He added that her commitment to turning her awareness about the slave trade into action was deeply appreciated and would go a long way to providing freedom and fulfilment through the gift of education for many Caribbean students.
Now in her late 70s, Freeman’s research and conscience 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.”
It was a series about the Atlantic slave trade on the BBC that shocked Freeman into action. 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.
Freeman, an accomplished musician, was born in the UK 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 Freeman.
Married twice, first to Barry Marshall and then to Bernard Freeman, she 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, she 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 Freeman.
Further research led her to The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and its Executive Director of Institutional Advancement, Elizabeth Buchanan Hind.
Buchanan Hind is also Chair of UWI Global Giving. 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. (PR/BT)