On Slavery – An Open Letter from Jamaica’s PJ Patterson to Britain’s David Cameron

On  September 30, 2015, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, arrived in Jamaica’s capital Kingston for a State Visit. He addressed a Joint Sitting of Parliament, and in a speech of sheer daring and barefacedness, Mr. Cameron suggested that “Jamaica should move on from its painful legacy of slavery,”. It is worthy of note that David Cameron, in 2014, called on Britons to “never forget the Holocaust”. These remarks therefore, if not racist, are most assuredly, an insult upon the collective integrity of the Jamaican people, who had already suffered great injury from British slavery, plunder, violence and colonization.

This exhibition of British arrogance, reminiscent of plantation slavery where Afro-Caribbean blacks were treated as chattel, was not to go unanswered. In a carefully written and eloquent response, former Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, gave Cameron a refresher lesson on history from the perspective of the enslaved, and, with meticulous argumentation, defended the honour of the Jamaican people, and the spirit of the ancestors whom fought to be freed from British slavery. In an Open Letter to David Cameron, he outlined why slavery cannot and shall not be forgotten. This Open Letter will go down in history as one of  the most poignant commentaries on slavery from a contemporary Caribbean political emissary, and one of PJ Patterson’s finest moments in leadership.


EXCERPTS of “Open Letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron from Jamaica’s Former Prime Minister, PJ Patterson:

Former Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson.
Former Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson.

“The most noble intentions were jarred by portions of your address which asserted that “slavery was a long time ago, in the historical past and as friends we can move on together to build for the future”. Mere acknowledgement of its horror will not suffice. It was and still is a most heinous crime against humanity – a stain which cannot be removed by the passage of time.

Those who perished in the Middle Passage and the fatal victims on the sugar plantation were the victims of genocide. This is a crime in accordance with International Law.

The attempt to trivialize and diminish the significance of 300 years of British enslavement of Africans and the trade in their bodies reflect the continued ethnic targeting of our ancestors and their progeny for discriminatory treatment in both the annals of history and in the present.

The 180 years of slavery in Jamaica remain fresh in living memory. There are people alive in Jamaica today whose great grandparents were a part of the slavery system and the memory of slavery still lingers in these households and communities.

To speak of slavery as something from the Middle Ages is insufficient. For our communities, its legacies are still present in their memory and emotions. To reject this living experience is to repudiate the very meaning and existence of these people’s lives.

How can we simply forget and move on to the future? If there is no explicit admission of guilt now, when will be the proper time?

You argue that Britain abolished the slave system and the credit for this resonates in the British Parliament today and show British compassion and diplomacy.

Where is the prior confession that Britain fashioned, legalized, perpetuated and prospered from the slave trade?

Indeed the facts speak to a different explanation. In Jamaica, the enslaved led by Sam Sharpe tried to abolish slavery themselves three years before Parliament acted. The British army destroyed these freedom fighters and executed their leaders.

This attempt to destroy the seed of freedom and justice in Jamaica continued for another hundred years. In 1865, the peasants sought to occupy Crown lands in order to survive widespread hunger. The British Government sent in the army and massacred those people, executing Paul Bogle, George William Gordon and other Leaders.

Furthermore, the British Act of Emancipation reflected that the enslaved people of Jamaica were not human but property. The 800,000 Africans in the Caribbean and elsewhere were valued at £47 million. The government agreed to compensate the slave owners £20million, and passed an Emancipation Act in which the enslaved had to work free for another four to six years in order to work off the £27million promised slave owners. It was they who paid for their eventual freedom.

The enslaved paid more than 50 percent of the cost of their market value in compensation to slave owners. This is what your Emancipation Act did. The enslaved got nothing by way of compensation. The Act of Emancipation was self-serving, and was designed to support British national commercial interests alone.

You have refused to apologize. Yet your Government has apologized to everyone else for horrid crimes. Are we not worthy of an apology or less deserving?

Mere acknowledgement of the crime is insufficient. The international community and international law call for formal apologies when crimes against humanity are committed. The UN has deemed slave trading and slavery as crimes against humanity. The refusal to apologise is a refusal to take responsibility for the crime. In a law abiding world, this is not acceptable.

Recently, you urged your own nation to keep the memory of the Jewish experience alive in memorials and education curricula. We urge you to do the same for the black experience with remains before us all.  It is precisely because we all want to move on that the reparatory justice movement is alive and growing. We all want to move on, but with justice and equality.

Contrary to your view, the Caribbean people will never emerge completely from the “long, dark shadow” of slavery until there is full confession of guilt by those who committed this evil atrocity.

The ‘resilience and spirit” of its people is no ground to impair the solemnity of a privileged Parliamentary occasion and allow the memory of our ancestors to be offended once again.

The Caribbean people have long been looking to the future, This is what we do in our development visions, but these legacies are like millstones around our necks. We look to reparatory justice as the beginning of shaping a new future. We invite Britain to engage in removing this blot on human civilization so that together we can create a new and secure future”.


Yours Sincerely,

P.J. Patterson



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  1. I am simply outraged that Cameron could be so bare faced.I am happy that it takes man of valour to reject this ‘gift” and that education enable one to express how slavery has impacted us an our present economic conditions.We have grown from the handouts and economic exploitation.We need to rise and this is the beginning of another hard fight against injustice done within the context of gift giving. They act of patronizing is in his DNA. They still think of us as mere chattels. own us.Haven”t they locked us out of their country after they have benefited immensely from the spoils of slavery.?Well done Mr PJ.

    • Don’t be outraged. It’s how white people like him are. Ignorant, stupid , patronizing and unable to see past their own supposed ‘superiority’. Don’t waste time expecting or wanting pigs like him to change. It’s beyond their capacity. Instead focus on getting better and being excellent in our own chosen endeavors. In my life at a huge multinational, I came across the same narrow minded filthy attitudes still perpetuated by whites who still consider themselves ‘evolved’. In this case a nasty white woman from Florida. All I could do was play the corporate game and bring her to the attentions of management and Human Resources. Eventually I resigned the job. This white pig got demoted but still sits there acting like she’s ‘lady muck’. Being excellent and living well, will always be the best revenge against pigs like her and David Cameron.

  2. Mr Former prime minister your are the best of the best,its about time someone speak up and stood up to Briton..wish if you could have illustrate more to Jamaicans who we are and where our ancestor originate.we are the real Jews Hebrew Jews .we are the tribe of Benjamin one of the twelve Tribes mention in the Holy Bible.Africans does not sold their own people,they sold our ancestor as slaves to the English ,we ended up in west Africa, from there we were ship throughout the Carribbean to work as slaves on Plantation.

  3. This was an eloquent and poise response to Mr. Cameron though less remarks. It is easy for the oppressor to say to the oppressed to forgive, forget and move on but when the oppressed were non blacks it is a different story. Would Mr. Cameron say to the Jews what he said to the people of Jamaica? To simply put it NO! Even if would have said it to the Jews there would have been an international outcry from every UN member nation asking , sorry I meant demanding that Mr. Cameron retract, recant and apologize to the Jewish people but where is the international outcry, where are the member States of the UN? Is it that their silence on this egregious statement asserts their consent or they share the same distorted view as the British Prime Minister? The UN is suppose to be the enforcer of international justice , to be the conscience of the member States yet their silence is deafening. There is one thing for certain through all of this the UN remains consistent with its lack luster approach to the concerns of African states or states of persons if African origins.
    Mr. Cameron we the people of the Caribbean as well as ALL people of the African diaspora who suffered as a result of British enslavement finds you in contempt , we find your statement insulting, insensitive and appalling. We demand an apology, we demand that Britain not only acknowledge what it did to our people but that you address the UN taking full responsibility for the genocide of our people, offering reparation for this act and to permanently make this apart of the curriculum in the schools of the UK. We like the JEWS want this act to NEVER be forgotten , DOWNPLAYED or OVERSHADOWED. We want it to be permanently placed in the halls of history not as the slave trade but as what truly was the GENOCIDE OF A RACE FOR CAPITAL GAINS

  4. Agreed:- well said. Mr. Patterson, my admiration of you has grown immensely. Thank you for your bold move. It means a lot.

  5. there is so much to say so i am just going to say this bit and this is what our older head useto say the leopard never change there skin> the jamaica government is sleeping and need to wake up well said pj

  6. This act by the British has been perpetrated all over the world, over all these years. The arrogance, the callousness, the Impunity. It shows that like Hitler, the belief is that we are just things. WHO and WHAT are they?

  7. Well said Mr.Patterson, why should we be asked to forget something that is a part of our very core. Why not ask the Jews to forget as well. Another oppression by the white man who has no Respect for Black folks. Mr Cameron shame on you for pretending slavery did not happen. Anyway we are not surprised by your filthy request but we forgive you because you obviously do not know the strength and dignity of a black man.

  8. I commented on this topic in the gleaner fb page. Again adding my voice to the conversation, I too congratulate the former PM. Because of the mediocre leaders we have representing us nowadays, these foreign leaders can come and disrespect us like that. Busta and Norman would tell this British punk to Piss_off . I think he is rude and arrogant , and we should have swept him all the way to the airport. PJ has said it all for me….

  9. Well Written ~ The people who hold Power will always say things Like get over it Yet profit a million times over and still do Forget about the mental Slavey of Lack of Self love that can be seen in the Matter of Skin Bleaching , Wanting Long Hair like those who enslaved many ~ Wanting Bodies like the Wives of Slave Masters ~ and Divided Families ~ Killed pregnant women and their Husbands if they got out of line I mean the list goes on ~ and the Broken Promises of Land ~ And Yet again we must never forget 911, the Holocaust in Germany ~ Japan and the list goes on ~ Yep those Invaders who came to Africa , North and South america and the Caribbean Did A Fantastic JOB Alright that is still Felt Today !!! So BIG BIG BIG Respect to PJ Patterson ~ Who I am very sure Felt the Energy of Our Ancestors within this Letter ~ WHO will Speak on The Ancestors Behalf ~ Of the Final Chapter of Setting the Record in Order with Reparations Yes!!! Along with the I am sorry Line. Yet to those nations mentioned the Jews , Japanese and some of the Native Americans Received paid Reparations For the Horror and Crime, Genocide Against African People Who were Forced To Labor for at least 300+ Years ~ Heck I would be a Wealthy Nation Also ~ Chat Bout ~ Pay Up ~

  10. Wow! This piece willl linger on till the end of time. Bravo! We salute you for standing up and defending our history and culture. God bless you.

  11. Well said Hon. P.J.N.Patterson you have placed the ball squarely where it belongs, you have spoken for us all as Jamaicans and we thank you for standing up for us so eloquently. On the matter of the prison, the British having reduced our trade in sugar and banana with further intent on trade restrictions; it’s no wonder the only gift the British can offer to a people who has nothing in them but a prison.

    When I make gifts to people I usually seek to present something that in my opinion is worthy of the person. It’s my opinion that the gift of a prison is intended for a nation of criminals. In this light David Cameron should see the light and recant on this offensive offer to a people who are striving to shake the negative tags that has dogged us for so long.

    As a people we deserve our respect

  12. To David racist cameron. You and your family are racist, allways have been. I was born in liverpool the most racist city in britain, the black people of liverpool still suffering from racism, you can go in the city you Will not see no black born people working in the city, you Will not see one black business in the city , you Will not see one black club in the city . Now at this moment there is no black community . Black people in liverpool are going through ethnic cleansing , moved out of the part of the city that has been our history to make way for the white yuppies with money . They trying to move us far out as possible . Liverpool has and allways Will be racist. We have nothing to suggest we are moving on. The only thing black people had was a carnaval and we dont have that now, been taken over by the white people. Yes liverpool was capital if culture what a Joke. Yours sincerely Peter Diboe

  13. Hope other leaders learn from Camern’s mistake when they try take us for granted they will hear the truth straight up. We all should aplaud our former Prime Minister for setting the record straight, and at a time when the whole world can see and hear the truth.
    Well done PJ

  14. Well said Hon.P.J.N.Patterson, we need more bold men such as yourself to stand up for justice.We can only move on and forgive when those who are responsible apologize for their wrong doings. We will be praying for strength for you to continue. God bless you.

  15. Those who have suffered and persecuted under the stewardship of the British enslavement ought not to be forgotten but let justice be served at the feet of those who are culpable of such heinous act and let it not be realized as though we are in quandary. equal rights and justice for all. Praise and honour to you honorable PJ Patterson

  16. Mr. Prime Minister You spoke not only for Jamaica, but for the entire Caribbean and indeed the entire African diaspora throughout the world. Thank you so much, I am sure you touched the spirit of Mr. Norman Manley and Dr. Eric Williams..

  17. Well said mr PJ Patterson
    We need a lot more talk like these, more ones Needs to come forward and let them know we are tired of been treated as if we are nothing, we are the backbone of the universe and I hope they acknowledge that we own them nothing they own us.
    Blessed love
    One love.

  18. Well said Dr PJ Patterson. It,s about time stand up to these world leaders and educate them on our history.Thank you.

  19. Thank you PJ, that is why our public representatives should be well schooled in certain diciplines, so that thought, depth, value and self worth, the air of confidence and self knowledge can guide our decisions, in the absence of that we are fodder to the cold world. Thanks PJ, we miss persons like you, but your voice today has rescued a condescending clueless Jamaica.Still you are Jamaica.

  20. Thank you Sir for writing your open letter. I too chose to write to the current president (sorry I don’t even think he is worthy of me mentioning his name). I doubt very much I will get a response but at least as a British Citizen I now know for sure exactly where we as Black people stand with him and his Conservative Party!!.

    God Bless you Honourable P J Patterson

  21. P J Paterson needed to remind David Cameron that he Cameron and others who are descendants of slave owners were born into wealth derived primarily from the sweat and lives of our forefathers while we were born into poverty. And the need remains for us the descendants of the slaves to claim an equitable share of that inheritance. Personally, I believe that the descendants of the slave owners do not owe us any appology. They can’t be held accountable for the evil deeds of their forefathers. But, they can’t expect to hold on to stolen goods. Goods which are the product of crimes against humanity. There can be no statute of limitations in such a case. The culprits in this case is not the Govt of Britain because the people were made bankrupt by their Parliament which borrowed monies to compensate themselves and the other slave owners which also included the clergy and royalty. The British Govt therefore should be our partners in seeking reparations from the descendants of the 46,000 slaves owners who were compensated and whose names and amounts received were recently disclosed. Any attempt to sue the Government of Britain for reparations for slavery will fail .

  22. Well said Sir, you have spoken – not just for our brothers in Jamaica – but for Africans in general, including us here in South Africa who are repeatedly and arrogantly told by racist to “get over it”. Well done!

  23. Thank you Sir, well done and thank you. You don’t know how much it means to hear you say so elequently and succinctly the points of the holicaust that they inflicted on us and grew rich beyond their means along with their mental health that dreamt up ways of braking and annihilating a race for their gain. Thank you… I hope many will speak of you and be inspired. At last, we are coming together again. No matter how many times they try. Thank you x

  24. Thank you Mr Patterson for been the voice of the people crying in the wilderness, you not only spoke for Jamaica but all who experienced the wrath of slavery, we miss you in the driver seat.

  25. Surprised to see an article of this ilk referring to a race of people as “AFRO CARIBBEAN”, the afro is no more than an outdated hairstyle. Why are ‘educated’ Jamaican so ashamed of their origin (AFRICA)? On reparation and apologies has the Portuguese and Spanish done this already, its worth remembering that they arrived ahead of the British. Is that part of Jamaica’s history also forgotten? It seems as if the pound means more to Portia and company than the Euro.

    • The antecedent ‘Afro’ is a standard i scholarship to link Diasporic peoples to the places of their origin. The term is accurate and is designed to embrace this African -ness, as peoples who had been taken from Africa and transplanted to the Caribbean. To say its usage is a question of ‘shame’ is to misunderstand its actual power. The argument for reparation from the British is well made.

  26. Thank you PM Patterson for such an eloquent representation and rejection of the barbarism and disdain shown for a “mighty” people by The British PM. One can’t help but wonder what part his ancestors played in this. It might just be his personal acknowledgement of his own legacy – familial complicity in this criminal situation. What obviously served to embolden him to make this offensive offer is the ignorant, “lickie lickie” posture of our current politicos. How dare he? The utter temerity.
    Personally I believe what should have happened in response to his offer is a real lewd potentially obscene gesture should have been made to him, privately. Isn’t there a story about a very conservative, extremely well groomed politician who was not above turning her back, colourfully, in protest of things that were ridiculous or offensive. His visit was both and in addition to being “shown to the door” he should have treated to a real “Rock stone Debate.”

  27. Indeed, well said by PJ a voice in Caribbean politics. All Caribbean leaders should show solidarity and echo his condemnation of David Cameron’s rethoric.

  28. Thank you Mr. PJ for your reply. I was relay taken aback with the presumptuousness of David Cameron, going to Jamaica to demoralized my people. I always say when GOD wants things to happen he create an event. In saying this, we would not have heard from our former Minister,s positive reply. However, I am glad you did not see money, but see a great nation of strong, powerful and ambitious people who are striving for greatness.
    God bless Jamaica.

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