My Fellow Jamaicans:

This year, we celebrate the 170th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. With freedom came the end of an era when hundreds of thousands – no, millions – of persons who inhabited Jamaica, the Caribbean and the Americas – were denied their essential humanity.

The events of 1834, when the Law of Abolition was actually passed, and 1838, when “full free” finally came, made it possible for all Jamaicans to enter a society of free human beings with full guarantee against their ever being owned again as property.

With freedom, a significant landmark in human development, came the right of our forebears:

  • to build villages;
  • plough their own plots of ground;
  • carry on trades of their own choosing,
  • educate their children;
  • worship and speak freely, and
  • begin to shape a society based on volunteerism and cooperative efforts.

This was the beginning of the spirit of the new Jamaica which our heroes envisioned: Marcus Mosiah Garvey who urged self-reliance; Norman Washington Manley who believed firmly that we can be creators of our destiny; William Alexander Bustamante, who defended the working class against labour exploitation. Theirs was a vision of a society with a capacity for tolerance, forgiveness and compassion which I am convinced will make a people great.

As we mark this important anniversary, all of us, especially our young people, should reflect on our history of perseverance and struggle through those years. For, as the saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Let us use our history as a point of departure on the road to self-development.

The dedication of this Emancipation Anniversary to the Haitian Bicentenary is a fitting tribute to the courage of the Haitian liberators of 1804 who made that country the first free nation in this hemisphere. It will surprise none of us to learn that a Jamaican slave, Boukman, fled to Haiti near the end of the 18th century and helped inspire the resistance that led to the abolition of slavery in that country and the birth of the Haitian nation two hundred years ago.

Even as we face our own struggles in the modern society which we now inhabit, let us be inspired by the courage of our ancestors who, in their own time, faced tremendous odds. Let us on this Emancipation Day give full recognition and appreciation for the freedom which they brought us through their strength and fortitude. Let us work together to build a society worthy of their legacy. Let us not be discouraged, however difficult things may seem at times.

In the new spirit of partnership among all sectors which we are now enjoying, more than at any other time in our recent history, let us work together to build a free Jamaica of equal citizens. Let us in honour of the memory of our ancestors rededicate ourselves to working together to achieve the peace and prosperity for which they courageously paved the way. Let us while respecting our differences understand fully that in unity is strength.

On this Emancipation Day let us pray together for God’s blessing on all of us and on Jamaica, this land we love.