Emancipation Park statues representing Africans looking to the sky after Emancipation declared throughout the British Empire in 1834
(I originally wrote this piece a few years ago, still seems to make sense to me)
By Jason Walker
Emancipation day is an important day for the descendants of Africa, especially those whose ancestors were impacted by the brutal Slave trade. In the 1800’s the holocaust of slavery was hit with a crippling blow around the world. The Emancipation Act was passed on July 31, 1834 throughout the British Empire and effectively ended the inhumane Slave Trade. Full freedom from slavery did not come until four years later on August 1, 1838. The 4 year period was instituted as a transition period as this monumental change would irrevocably change societies worldwide. The abolition of Slavery in the British Empire would affect slavery everywhere mainly because Britain’s navy owned the seas and without the cooperation of the British Navy, it made slavery both difficult and expensive. And as destructive, dehumanizing and inhumane the European version of the system of slavery was; it was for all intents and purposes an economic manifestation.
Slavery was a cruel and destructive system that had Africans as free labourers in labour intensive industries such as Cotton, Sugar and Tobacco. Throughout the 1400’s through to the middle of the 1700’s products such as these fetched a very attractive price, along with the free labour, a tidy profit could be made. Although labour was free, the cost to keep Africans enslaved was high. Especially in areas where there were slaves freeing themselves and staging revolts. The most successful of these of course included the Maroons in Jamaica from the 1500’s through to the 1700’s and even more so the Africans (including Maroons) in Haiti who at the end of the 1700’s would successfully wage a revolution against French armies, supported by Spain and England.
Do not think though that the Emancipation act came about from any suddenly altruistic gestures by the British Monarchy. Due to the work of many abolitionists in Britain; the sentiment against the horrific system Slavery had grown tremendously among the English population. Also the prices of the aforementioned products began to drop on the world markets as new products that did not need this labour intensive situation were now rising to prominence. Along with that came the advent of the industrial age which was ushering a new era where such labour numbers were not the order of the day. All the aforementioned along with the cost of keeping control and responding to revolts made these endeavours non-attractive. Continuing the genocidal and devastating system Slavery no longer made economic sense.
As we come to the present, we find that it is only in the past two decades that countries have decided to mark this date as a holiday, and of the countries that were affected by this act (Countries in Africa, The Caribbean, Central America, South America, & North America) a small percentage actually commemorate this day*. Maybe that is appropriate; I say this because although things are different from the era of slavery, people of African descent in the aforementioned geographical areas are not in a position of true emancipation.
The definition of Emancipation from the English Oxford Dictionary states that it is “the fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or political restrictions; liberation:” With the majority of African persons in these areas lacking resources, political clout, and in some cases freedom, can we really call ourselves emancipated? It was probably this same observation that led former Prime Minister of Jamaica and former leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (a coalition of countries that were not listed as industrial nations) Michael Manley to say; “The enslavement of the body which endured till 1838 was nothing compared to the enslavement of the mind which persisted since”. The affects of slavery and the propaganda to support slavery has endured and left a lasting mark and has conspired to keep those of African descent in such a position.
Yet by our accomplishments singularly and in some rare cases collectively we see we are a very powerful people. So it is possible to change the current existence. However we will probably have to do what Reggae Superstar Bob Marley said in his song Redemption Song: “Emancipate Yourself From Mental Slavery” before we can truly be at a stage of Emancipation. So although we celebrate the Act that saw fruition on August 1 1838 annually, we should probably use these days to see where we are on the road of getting to the next stage of Emancipation and be creative in getting to that new stage.
*Countries that Celebrate Emancipation Day include: Jamaica, Barbados, Bermuda, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Canada, Guyana, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts & Nevis