MONTEGO BAY, St James - PROFESSOR Verene Shepherd, director at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, has called for Sam Sharpe Square in the resort city of Montego Bay to be cordoned off, in an effort to preserve the memory of the historic site.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, the noted historian bemoaned what she claimed is the unclean state of small square, which was named in honour of National Hero Sam Sharpe.
“You don’t take heroes and heroines for granted, you protect the sites. When I go there now it is dirty, rubbish is all over the place, it smells bad like people are using it as an urinal, and we think that we honour Sam Sharpe?” she fumed.
“Every National Heroes’ Day we big up Sam Sharpe and we forget him for the rest of the year. I really think that the National Heritage Trust must do something about that square.”
Sharpe was born in the parish of St James, and although he was a slave throughout his life, he was allowed to become well-educated. Because of his education, he was respected by other slaves. He was also a well-known preacher and leader.
A deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay, Sharpe spent most of his time travelling to different parishes in Jamaica educating the slaves about Christianity and freedom.
He was the main instigator of the 1831 Slave Rebellion, which began on the Kensington Estate in St James, and which was largely instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery.
The rebellion, which was brutally suppressed by the British military, involved some 50,000 slaves throughout Jamaica.
Approximately 500 slaves were executed, including Sharpe, who was hanged on May 23, 1832 in the Montego Bay.
In 1975, Sharpe was proclaimed a National Hero and a teacher’s college in Granville, St James, was founded and named in his honour.
And Charles Square in Montego Bay was renamed in his honour on October 20, in the same year.
Yesterday, Member of Parliament for the Central St James Lloyd B Smith told the Observer West that he will be lobbying for Sam Sharpe Square to be pedestrianised.
“My personal view is that Sam Sharpe Square should be pedestrianised. That is something I will be lobbying for in the long term. There ought not to be any [vehicular] traffic passing through there. Although some people might find that far-fetched, that is my view, and while it may not happen right now, ultimately that is what should happen to preserve the square,” Smith explained.
Added Smith: “I really believe that it (Sam Sharpe Square) could turn into a very valuable piece of asset for Montego Bay, both in terms of tourism and the overall aesthetics of the downtown Montego Bay area.”
In the past, suggestions for the pedestrianisation of Sam Sharpe Square have been met with strong objections from members of the business community, many of whom have expressed apprehension that it could result in a downturn in business.
But yesterday, President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Davon Crump, who has in the past strongly lobbied for the cleaning up of downtown Montego Bay, said he had no objection to barring vehicular traffic from the square, if it will be cleaner and the aesthetics enhanced.
In the meantime, Professor Shepherd was also very critical of the despicable condition which exists behind the civic centre in Sam Sharpe Square, where the names of 500 slaves — including Sharpe’s — who were executed in the rebellion are listed on a monument.
“......And behind the civic centre do you know there is a monument there with the names of all those who fought with Sharpe and what happened to them? "she questioned. "Who goes there? Who cares for it?"
But Smith, who is oftentimes referred to as the “Governor of the City of Montego Bay”, said as a result of representation from himself and Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris, money is now available from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to undertake a massive development of the civic centre.
“There is this major plan afoot and as I say, TEF has already made a commitment through its chairman Senator Noel Sloley,” he disclosed.
He added that a management committee will be put in place to oversee, among other things, the full development of the museum at the facility and the fencing of the area.
Additionally, the Central St James MP revealed that presently he is having dialogue with the Institute of Jamaica and the National Gallery of Jamaica with a view to have permanent exhibitions at the proposed upgraded museum at the civic centre.
“We are in talks with the Institute of Jamaica and the National Arts Gallery in terms of getting some stuff from them so that we can have a permanent exhibition up there,” Smith revealed.
He further stated that the recent establishment of the Montego Bay Arts Council, chaired by Josef Fortsmayr, was put in place to ensure that major events will be hosted at the facility around the clock.