Scotland’s slave past to be examined in lecture

Scotland and the UK’s relationship with the slave trade will be examined as part of a lecture on racial justice and healing on Thursday at the University of Edinburgh.  

A digital composite image giving details of the Fulbright Distinguised Lecture

Professor Earl Lewis, of the University of Michigan, will give a lecture entitled The Grace of Repair discussing reparations 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.

Scotland has been exploring its links with the slave trade in recent years, with local authorities and institutions apologising for their long-term participation and profiteering from slavery.

A just future

Professor Lewis invites us to consider how we build positive communities and secure a just future, after lifting the lid on the realities of the cities we live in. Insights from the renowned scholar followed by meaningful discussion will further Scotland's knowledge of racism, reparations, and reconciliation.

This lecture is the 13th annual Distinguished Fulbright Lecture and will be held at 50 George Square.

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

Fulbright Commission

A photograph of Professor Earl Lewis
Professor Earl Lewis

Over the last 75 years, it has offered immersive education exchange programmes on both sides of the Atlantic that span generations, investing in human potential, advancing knowledge and bringing together the diverse perspectives of the UK and the US to address shared challenges.

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.

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. 

Colonial legacy

The University of Edinburgh is committed to examining its colonial legacy and the contemporary impact of its complex past. The institution is undertaking a range of activity to review its past associations with the Transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and other aspects of race. 

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

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.

Maria BalinskaExecutive Director of the US-UK Fulbright Commission

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. The University of Edinburgh is delighted to welcome Professor Lewis to Edinburgh and continue to support the US-UK Fulbright Commission in its goal to promote civic engagement.

Professor Sarah PrescottVice Principal and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh

Related links

Register to join the event or for the live stream

Statement from the Principal on how the University is addressing contemporary and historic racism

Learn more about the work of the US-UK Fulbrigh Commission