By Calibe Thompson
Between the time of the Africans’ unwilling exodus to Jamaica and the island’s Independence from Britain in 1962, perhaps the most consequential event was Emancipation.
It is a disquieting thought to say the least, but just a short 182 years ago, all of us refined, successful, educated black folks from the English speaking Caribbean would have been white men’s property. Today, they are our friends, family and business associates. Good conscience triumphed over profiteering when Britain declared that on August 28, 1834 slavery was to be ended. Now many former British West Indian colonies celebrate Emancipation on August 1st or the first Monday in August. It would actually take another four years from the 1834 Abolition Act for “full freedom” to be implemented. Slave owners at the time opposed this forced surrender of their “property” – the free labor that made them profitable. Even after receiving 20 million pounds of sterling for their inconvenience, slave owners were entitled to many of the same privileges of ownership that they had before. By the time full freedom was effectively implemented, our spirits had been bent, but not broken.
At one point in our nation’s history most of us would have been equivalent to livestock, but today we are free and theoretically equal to all other men. We celebrate Emancipation Day the way that someone who has been assaulted celebrates his attacker’s conviction. We acknowledge that the chapter is closed, and we have learned forgiveness, but the wounds have left ugly scars that make it impossible for us to forget. Whereas independence was an earned acknowledgement that we had the right to run our own country, emancipation was a reluctant concession that we had the right to own our own selves.
We have lived through atrocities and risen above them with a smile and a song. Our indomitable spirit has produced the fastest, the happiest, some of the most innovative, resourceful, resilient people on earth. And so each year when August comes, even though we could look back on all the transgressions that have been committed against us and could justifiably cling to bitterness, instead we choose to celebrate.
Calibe Thompson is a video media producer, speaker and writer. Learn more about her services at www.islandsyndicate.com and watch her on ‘Island Origins’ Mon at 10:00PM and Tues, Thurs and Sat at 9:00PM on South Florida’s BECON-TV (Ch 63 / Comcast 19).