Various countries and dependencies throughout the Caribbean have an Emancipation Day with various dates and historical backgrounds. In Jamaica, Emancipation Day comes on 1 August, the day in 1834 when the British Parliament passed the bill to abolish slavery in all British colonies.
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The bill itself contained provisions for former masters to be compensated for the loss of their “property”, sometimes by several years of continued service by the former slaves. Thus slavery did end in Jamaica, but it was a process. The first of August stands out as the key date that saw that process get started, and for that reason, it’s the date of the holiday.
By 1840, at least, all of Jamaica’s 311,000 or so slaves were finally free. And the same could be said for thousands upon thousands more spread throughout other British holdings in the Caribbean and beyond.
Emancipation Day was first made a public holiday in Jamaica in 1893, but it was discontinued when Jamaica became an independent country in 1962. In 1997, however, it was reintroduced and has been celebrated ever since.
It is a day on which people remember the long struggle against slavery and rejoice that it was finally abolished. It is also a time to reflect on how far Jamaica and its population – largely descended from freed slaves – has come over the last 175 years or so.