Although we officially commemorated Emancipation Day earlier this week and now move into our annual observation of the country's attainment of political independence, we cannot ever neglect the importance of this period of recall and celebration being marked in our hearts and, indeed, the way we live.
Additionally, we must never forget the experience of our ancestors who were brought here after being enslaved because that should continue to guide our actions — the way we relate to our fellow human beings and how we conduct our affairs as a sovereign nation.
The latter, we believe, is most important, because it is only by being economically independent that we can truly make life better for all Jamaicans and increase our influence in the international community.
At the root of our resolve to achieve that ideal should be the painful memory of the injustice meted out to the slaves who were declared free on August 1, 1838.
Slaves in the British West Indies were, however, free after August 1, 1834, but were compelled to work as apprentices until 1838; hence the term “full free”.
Recall that they were advised that they would have to pay rent for the houses in which they lived and the lands they farmed from the day of Emancipation.
The rent provision was contained in the Proclamation of Emancipation issued by Governor Sir Lionel Smith on July 9, 1838, which became effective August 1 that year.
Without an ounce of shame the governor described the proclamation as a “great blessing” and told the freed slaves: “Where you can agree and continue happy with your own masters, I strongly recommend you to remain on those properties on which you have been born, and where your parents are buried. But you must not mistake in supposing that your present houses, gardens, or provision grounds are your own property. They belong to the proprietors of the estates, and you will have to pay rent for them in money or labour, according as you and your employers may agree together.”
As if that were not despicable enough, he advised that people who decided not to work, but went wandering about the island would be “taken up as vagrants and punished in the same manner as they are in England”.
Sir Lionel then instructed our ancestors to listen to their pastors who, he said, would keep them out of trouble. He also told the freed slaves to recollect what was expected of them from the people of England, who have “paid a large price” for their liberty.
In sharp contrast, indentured workers were given property and money, a move that historians have long argued contributed to the high level of poverty and landlessness among blacks in the former colonies.
We note as well that slave masters were generously compensated by the British Government for loss of their property — the slaves.
We don't envision us going back to those times, but even then we cannot ignore the re-emergence of racist thinking in a number of jurisdictions where many of our people have settled. As such, we have a duty to support opposition to that viewpoint as it should not be allowed to germinate further.
We have always maintained in this space that we all have a duty to make productive use of the freedoms won by our ancestors because they were not easily attained. Many lives were lost in that struggle and, as such, we cannot give scant regard to their sacrifice.
That is why we are duty-bound to ensure that we run our affairs in such a manner that no one can even think of ever again subjecting us to any form of subversion, be it economic, social or, as National Hero Marcus Garvey warned, mental slavery.