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Leaders call for unity, respect for human rights in Emancipation messages

Friday, August 01, 2014    

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JAMAICA'S leaders have issued a call for unity and respect for human rights in their Emancipation Day messages.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen said it was optimistic that despite the fact that a number of Jamaicans today live in 'nowhere land' the resilience of the people will see the country prosper.

"I firmly believe that we are destined, under God, to increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity. Today, my fellow Jamaicans, as we celebrate Emancipation, I thank all of you from every walk of life who commit to working to achieve that noble vision for Jamaica. It is time for us to stand together and combine all our efforts to free our country from every form of barrier, tribalism and hindrance to our progress as a people. Let us now move with haste to engrave a new profile on the local and international image of Jamaica. We must believe in ourselves and in our potential to be a truly great nation," Sir Patrick said.

On August 1, 1838 slavery was officially abolished by the British Empire and thousands of slaves of African descent were no longer forced to do back-breaking labour without compensation for their white slave masters.

In an emotional message laced with references to the 'brutality and genocide' meted out to the blacks who fought bitterly against their forced oppression, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called on Jamaicans to pay tribute to and never forget the struggles of those who had to endure the sting of the whip, rape, amputations and other horrors of the greatest sin mankind has ever perpetrated.

"Scholars tell us that some of the ex-slaves walked up hills and climbed into tree tops so that they could clearly witness the literal dawning of their freedom, so anxious were they not to miss the first light of liberation day.

In Jamaica on that "full free" August morning, peaceful celebrations occurred across the island. A hearse containing shackles and chains that had been used to bind rebellious slaves was driven through the streets of the capital Spanish Town, and ceremoniously burned," Simpson Miller said.

She also paid tribute to some lesser known names of the world struggle for freedom as she encouraged Jamaicans to visit a monument in their area to pay homage.

"Every monument to our ancestors, new and old, is important in celebrating the memory of those who bled and died, struggled and sacrificed so that we can be free," she said.

She suggested that Jamaicans research the struggles, not just of the well-known heroes and heroines, but others including:

* John Clarke and Edward Jarrett, leaders of the Argyle war in Hanover in 1824;

* Abraham Peart of Spice Grove in Manchester;

* Solomon Atkinson of Fairy Hill in Portland;

* Sarah Darling of Mitcham in St Elizabeth;

* John Barclay of Spring Valley in St Thomas in the East; and

* Charles Duncan of Charlton in St Thomas in the Vale; all of whom were punished for fighting for freedom in 1831/32.

"Our ability to overcome against all odds, our determination and our never-say-die attitude define us as a people. It is who we are, irrespective of our lineage -- Out of Many, One People -- resilient, capable, determined and strong," she said.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was no less passionate in delivering his message as he urged Jamaicans to continue to fight for human rights and lambasted the criminality that pervades in society.

"There are those among us who have used the freedoms hard fought and won by our forefathers in such a way as to take away the freedoms, and rights of others. There are many in our society who are not free to move about as they wish because criminals have drawn artificial borderlines; there are business people who are not free to conduct business because of extortion, and each time you close that padlock on that grille at home you remember that a little bit of your freedom is whittled away because crime is at your doorstep.

"We must never make excuses for criminals; there are hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who are poor and dispossessed but who use their freedom not to choose crime as a way of life," Holness said.

Emancipation Day became a public holiday in 1893. The day was observed on the first Monday in August. Between 1895 and 1962, it was celebrated on August 1, unless the date fell on a Saturday or Sunday.

When Jamaica gained independence on August 6, 1962, the official observance of Emancipation Day was discontinued in favour of Independence Day.

The day was re-observed as an official holiday under the P J Patterson Government in 1997 and is observed on August 1, except when the day falls on a Sunday; in which case it is celebrated on Monday, August 2.

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