EXCLUSIVE: Laura Trevelyan has said that her professional success can be traced back to Britain’s colonial history after quitting the BBC this week to tackle her family’s slave trade legacy.
In an interview with Deadline, the former BBC World News anchor said she felt a personal responsibility for her ancestors owning slaves in Grenada, the Caribbean island.
Trevelyan also called on King Charles III to properly confront the British royal family’s connection to slavery amid a growing reckoning among Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean.
The 54-year-old enjoyed a 30-year career at the BBC, presenting shows including Emmy-winner BBC World News America. She left this week to join the movement for reparatory justice for the Caribbean.
“My own social and professional standing, almost 200 years after abolition, is almost certainly linked to the wealth and the status that our family acquired, at least partly through slave ownership,” she said. “There’s no coincidence. The past does define the present.”
Trevelyan, who is married to former ABC News chief James Goldston, and her family apologized last month to the people of Grenada because their ancestors owned more than 1,000 slaves across six sugar plantations.
Trevelyan said she would use her storytelling expertise and public platform to raise the profile of efforts to uproot the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean. She does not have a formal role as yet, but said she would be a “roving advocate for reparatory justice.”
She explained: “It’s a bit of a leap into the void, for sure, but a path has presented itself. This is an opportunity and maybe I’m uniquely positioned [to embrace this role] because I’m a descendant of slave owners, and because I’m not scared to answer all the questions that go with that.”
Trevelyan was compelled to take up the cause after traveling to Grenada last year to make a BBC documentary about her family’s slave trade history. She said the trip had a “profound” impact, helping her understand that the legacy of slavery lives on, not least because Grenada’s epidemic of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes can be traced back to colonialism.
“We signed our apology and we gave it to the prime minister of Grenada, and he thanked us and forgave us, and said he hoped that this would be a turning point in the fight for reparatory justice,” Trevelyan said of her visit last month, during which she donated a £100,000 ($121,000) reparatory fund.
Trevelyan said she felt “liberated” to talk about the issue of slavery after leaving the BBC, which holds staff to strict rules on impartiality. “I’m ready to have my own voice and I feel that this is a story that I hope I can tell in conjunction with the Caribbean,” she explained.
To this end, she felt able to criticize the British royal family for the first time, arguing that its current position of “regret” on slavery “isn’t really cutting it anymore.”
Trevelyan said: “It’s very important for the King to acknowledge that the royal family was critical in sanctioning the slave trade at the beginning. The Royal Africa Company in the 17th century was sanctioned by the royals. Slaves were branded with the Duke of York’s initials and he later became King.
“In a very British way, this is all unacknowledged… his Coronation, or the months after the Coronation, is an opportunity to acknowledge the shared painful past. I would encourage him to do that very strongly.”
On a visit to the Caribbean last year, Prince William said slavery was abhorrent, “should never have happened” and “forever stains our history.”
Trevelyan signed off earlier this week, thanking the BBC World News America audience and saying it had been an “absolute honor” to present the show.
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