‘’Freedom at last” was maybe the words the enslaved people were echoing in Jamaica on August 1, 1838, when the Emancipation Declaration was read on the steps of Old Kings House in Spanish Town, the country’s then capital. In 1834 a bill was passed in the British Parliament that declared all enslaved Africans under six (6) years old freed from their masters. However, every African over six had to do six years of apprenticeship. They had to work for forty hours in exchange for food, shelter, and grounds where they grow their provisions. One way they could buy their freedom was by seeking jobs elsewhere with the remaining hours in the week. Africans were granted complete freedom four years later.
Emancipation Day in Jamaica
Emancipation Day became a public holiday in Jamaica in 1893. However, when the country gained Independence from the British in 1962, it was discontinued. After a six-year campaign led by Professor Rex Nettllford, it was reinstated as a national holiday in 1998 by Prime Minister P.J Patterson.
Traditionally, the Africans in Jamaica would keep vigils at midnight on July 31. Drums would be beating, and church bells ringing in the parks and public squares to reenact the moments of freedom. On the “August 1” holiday, there would be a reading of the Emancipation Declaration.
On July 31, 2002, Emancipation Park, named in commemoration of Emancipation Day, was opened. When you tour, you will see the momentum of the national heroes. There is also an 11-foot bronze sculpture called “Redemption Song “by artist Laura Facey. This sculpture comprises a male and female statue gazing at the skies and symbolises a triumphant rise from the horrors of slavery. The artist stated that her inspiration came from the words of National Hero Marcus Garvey and the late Bob Marley, “None but ourselves can free our minds”.