Emancipation Day is of great historical significance to Jamaica and many other countries across the world that were formerly part of the British Empire. Plantation slavery came to an end at midnight on July 31, 1838, and so the 1st of August is the anniversary of the day when slavery came to an ended.
It is the day on which we celebrate our freedom as a people, a day of very great national importance, as the vast majority of our ancestors came to these shores in bondage.
Today we remember the contributions of our ancestors to the freedoms we now enjoy, many of whom suffered and died in the fight for justice from the oppressive system in which they lived. As we remember, we also renew our commitment to defending the rights and freedoms won through our ancestors’ blood, sweat and tears over centuries of courageous struggle.
Our history must fully recognize the central contribution and value of the resistance to slavery by the slaves themselves. Our own people were our principal liberators. It was not willingly given to us by others, despite what they would sometimes have us believe. Great heroines and heroes of our people, Nanny, Tacky and Sam Sharpe, led the way to freedom from slavery.
The observation of Emancipation Day as a public holiday was reinstated in 1997 to ensure that we never forget the significance of the “First of August” celebrations. I continue to believe in the power of that observance. It is distinct from, and as significant as, the 6th August when we celebrate the anniversary of our political independence.
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