We celebrate, once again, our emancipation from slavery 176 years ago. We glory in that achievement as the greatest victory that mankind has ever won because slavery is the worst form of oppression that man can impose on his fellowman.
We celebrate the heroes of that victory, especially those who risked their lives and gave their lives in the struggle for freedom. Many of them, like Sam Sharpe, were slaves themselves. Others, including some members of the slave-owning class, recognized the abomination that slavery was and took a stand. We celebrate them all.
While the battle to end slavery was won, the roots from which it sprung remain embedded in the psyche of many people throughout the world. It is manifested in the form of prejudice and discrimination. It expresses itself in ethnic conflicts that, even today, remain unresolved. It remains a flashpoint that poses a recurring threat to international peace and security. The battle may have been won but the struggle against bigotry, prejudice, discrimination and the instinct toward domination of some over others must continue to be waged.
We in Jamaica must never allow ourselves to become complacent. Our motto “Out of Many, One People” was carefully and deliberately crafted because our founding fathers recognized the diverse and historically conflicting streams from which we spring. It reflects the reality of our history but it also defines the hope for our future.
We still have work to do. Bob Marley exhorted us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because some of us still approach life as if they were slaves and others as if they were slave masters. Professor Rex Nettleford pointed out to us that the jailers and the jailed are both in jail.
1834 was, therefore, the beginning of the emancipation process. That process will only be complete when we, as a people, reject all forms and manifestations of bigotry and prejudice. Emperor Haile Selassie, in that famous address to the United Nations in 1963, warned that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, that until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation, that until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, that until that day, the dream of lasting peace would remain but a fleeting illusion. And he went further to say that until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill, until that day, the world will not know peace.
In the final analysis, emancipation goes beyond the unshackling of the chains of slavery and the inscribing of equal rights in constitutions and universal declarations. It comes down to a question of respect for each other and the dignity with which we treat each other. That, ultimately, is what emancipation is all about.
As we celebrate Emancipation Day and the accomplishments of the past, let us remind ourselves that the emancipation struggle must continue if we are to live out the true meaning of our motto that, out of many, we are, indeed, one people.

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