My Fellow Jamaicans,
I greet you on this Emancipation Day in the name of freedom and in tribute to freedom-loving people everywhere!
Emancipation Day 2007 falls within a very historic year.
It is the year in which we mark the 200th anniversary of the passing of the British Act which led to the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade in Africans.
It is the year in which we celebrate 45 years of independence as a proud sovereign nation.
It is the year being recognized as the ‘Year of Garvey’ in tribute to the 120th anniversary of the birth of our National Hero the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
It is also the year of our 15th general elections, which brings to memory 1944, the year in which, for the very first time, all Jamaicans over 21 had the right to vote for their political representatives.
These are not unrelated and unconnected events to be celebrated in isolation. They mark important stages in our historic freedom journey, as people from various ethnic roots.
To serve the cause of “king sugar”, we endured conquest, colonization and the evil system of slavery, which robbed our African ancestors of their rights, dignity and respect as human beings and enslaved an entire society.
Our journey has taken us through struggles for emancipation, self-government, political independence and the creation of a democratic society under the rule of law. Today, we forge ahead, purposefully and confidently with economic transformation.
That British Act of 1807 and Emancipation in 1838 did not mean completion of the freedom journey. Colonizers still tried to recreate the mentalities of slavery and to keep our people trapped within systems of inequality. This is the reality that drove and inspired Marcus Garvey and others to embark on a campaign for our mental liberation. The struggle continues.
On this Day as we continue to reflect upon our history, I pray that new insights will bless us with a deeper understanding of ourselves as a people who have survived, endured and triumphed.
There are valuable lessons from the past still clamouring for our attention. These are lessons that we must teach to our children; so that they can feel genuine pride in the achievements of their ancestors, and put a high value on the freedoms we enjoy today and tend to take for granted.
Let us draw on the resources from the memory bank of our experiences to guide us in creating a roadmap that will guide us to a brighter future. We all know that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
On this Emancipation Day and in recognition of those who stood up for our freedom, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust will be unveiling its first Freedom Monument in Montego Bay, honouring not only the leader of the Emancipation Rebellion, National Hero the Rt. Excellent Samuel Sharpe, but all those who fought and died with him.
Many of these, our noble ancestors have been condemned to the footnotes of our history or ignored altogether. Let us remember some of them today; James Anglin, Charles Barrett, Becky, Cuffee, Thomas Daive, John Dunbar, Robert Gardner, Ann Guy, Jenny, George Kerr, Little Robert, Louis, Abraham Peart, Prince, Success and Sharpe’s right-hand man, George Taylor.
In their honour and in the name of all freedom loving peoples the world over, we must continue the freedom journey.
The words of a former slave spoken on the 2nd of August 1842, in Mount Regale, Clarendon, echo in my heart today. This is what he said four years after Emancipation:”But now, no Overseer can come and drive we off to the field. Now we can work when we like, and stay at home when we sick. We can buy our own land, build we own house, and go to we own church.”
These were freedoms that slavery denied our ancestors. Emancipation brought a new day, but it did not put an end to injustice. Emancipation paved the way for freedom from forced labour but left the freed people with limited rights. Bogle and Gordon took a stand for those who toiled. So did Marcus Garvey. So did Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley. Because of the struggles of 1938 and social reconstruction in the seventies, today workers have real rights under the law, including paid sick leave, a national minimum wage, equal pay for equal work and paid maternity leave.
Emancipation paved the way for those who were enslaved to own land but the planters continued to frustrate the efforts of the freed men and women to live and work on their own land. Today we are making sure that sugar workers own homes and have land on which they can put into production.
We are ensuring that families whose ancestors managed to get a piece of land ‘back in the days’, now have proper titles to their property.
As a result of intensive and sustained efforts to provide housing, we are making sure that many, many Jamaicans are able to own their homes in well-designed communities.
We must continue the work. We must continue to right the wrongs. We have a duty to realize the vision of our ancestors. Let us not squander their legacy by turning away from the successful completion of the journey, or by turning on each other to settle our differences.
History will not be kind to us if we fail to follow the path towards full freedom, by creating a just, loving, peaceful, prosperous and liberated Jamaica for all!
On this Emancipation day, may God bless us all and strengthen our resolve to protect our freedom and ensure a brighter future for all Jamaica.
My Fellow Jamaicans,