If Sam Sharpe could speak from the grave…Tuesday, December 29, 2020
From the confines of his grave, if he could, National Hero Samuel “Daddy” Sharpe must be asking what is the sense in the Jamaican Government declaring a day in his honour if the whole matter is to be shrouded in secrecy?
And if he could tweak his defiant statement of 1832 as he faced death by hanging that, “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than to live for a minute more in slavery,” he would, no doubt, say: “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than put up for a minute more with these trifling Jamaicans.”
We admit that we in this space were taken entirely off guard when the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport announced three days before Christmas that, at the behest of the Government, the governor general had declared December 27 as Sam Sharpe Day.
Of course, we are absolutely in support of a Sam Sharpe Day that will further cement the knowledge of the sacrifice made by this slave, Baptist preacher, freedom fighter, hero, in the hope of inspiring and instilling courage and selflessness in Jamaicans now and in the future. But we are baffled by the mysterious stealth with which this critical declaration was made, accustomed as we are to a lead-up period trumpeting this happy news and preparing the wicket, so to speak, to get Jamaicans informed and on board.
Allowance can be made for the fact that, in the time of COVID-19, many of the traditional activities associated with the declaration of a day in honour of a great son or daughter of the soil might not be safe or could breach the COVID-19 protocols. But surely, a full-on public education campaign, even if confined to newspaper, radio, television, and social media, could not be too much to undertake. The whole thing feels as if it were all an after-thought.
Then, on the day, December 27 itself, the high point of this celebration of Sam Sharpe Day was a full page advertisement in the two daily newspapers carrying the script of the declaration by Sir Patrick Allen.
COVID-19 notwithstanding, there were wreath-laying ceremonies for national heroes Sir Alexander Bustamante, Mr Norman Washington Manley, and late Prime Minister Michael Manley, though somewhat modest, understandably, in comparison to previous years.
In announcing the declaration ahead of the Christmas holidays, Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange said the day was in keeping with the policy of promoting “the knowledge and memory of those who have contributed to the development of Jamaica… the Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe stands tall among such men”.
A couple of newspaper ads and mentions on the Government-run Jamaica Information Service news programmes do not cut it. That is certainly not how we show respect to our heroes. It took us long enough — not till 1975 — to declare Mr Sam Sharpe a national hero.
Mr Sharpe is credited with triggering the Emancipation War, beginning on December 27, 1831. It was said to be the largest and most successful of the fights to end slavery, and a major catalyst for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
“Sam Sharpe Day, each year, will be an occasion to reflect on and celebrate the unflinching courage and bold resolve of these our ancestors, led by Sam Sharpe, who gave their lives for our freedom,” said Ms Grange.
Let's get beyond words and do it, if we mean it.
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