As the island prepares for the celebration of the anniversary of its independence on Friday, August 6, the Jamaica Observer looks at the country’s path to political freedom.
A journey, one footstep, 1,000 miles, shackled, sun-beaten bodies, the end was nowhere in sight, but they did not lack vision. Jamaican independence is a remarkable story, filled with the intricacies of any great tale: hurdles, great playmakers and the sweet taste of overcoming adversity.
The genesis of this story takes its roots in the post-emancipation period — 1838-1962. The central theme of this period was the struggle for land and the culmination of this struggle came in the form of the Morant Bay Rebellion.
According to jamaica-guide.info: “In 1865, the Reverend Dr Edward Underhill, a Baptist minister in England, sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies a letter on the condition of Jamaica…” In his letter he complained of the treatment which the lower classes received at the hands of the planters, and urged that certain reforms should be instituted.
A copy of the letter was leaked to the newspapers, triggering public meetings, called ‘Underhill Meetings’, in different towns, many of these presided over by George William Gordon, who was a Member of the House of Assembly. Gordon made fiery speeches inside and outside the House of Assembly, where from 1864 he represented St Thomas-in-the-East. He had in St Thomas a political supporter and religious follower called Paul Bogle who exercised considerable local influence.
On October 11, when the vestry was meeting in the Court House at Morant Bay, Paul Bogle and his followers marched into the town and demonstrated in front of the Court House. Eventually Bogle’s men set fire to the building, and the Custos and a number of others were killed while trying to escape. But Governor Eire sent a warship to Morant Bay and poured troops and Maroons into St Thomas. The resistance was ineffective.
Martial Law was proclaimed and the revolt was put down with terrible savagery. Gordon was arrested as the instigator of this rebellion, but there was no evidence to prove that he had deliberately instigated it. He was illegally transferred from Kingston, tried by court martial at Morant Bay, found guilty and hanged.
Blood, sweat and tears combined and emerged as the resilient colours of black green and gold.
Midnight August 5, 1962, the national anthem’s melody was premiered and with a sense of national pride resounding and creating the backdrop, the British Union Jack was lowered and the Jamaican flag unveiled and hoisted in its place. This releasing of the British grip on Jamaica was a tourniquet for the gory snapshots of slavery, rebellions and senseless killings that plagued the country in that historical juncture.
On jamaicans.com, Edward Brown, an assistant cameraman with the Jamaica Film Unit at the National Stadium in his account of the night stated: “…Eventually the flag went up, the anthem was sung and the Bishops presented the prayers. There was no wind so the flag just hung limply. I wondered whether that was a sign of things to come. I remember Sir Alexander, the Prime Minister and Norman Manley, the Leader of the Opposition just staring as if they had witnessed the birth of a new baby and wondering if we would prosper.”
The nation’s first Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante, responding to Princess Margaret and addressing Jamaicans at home and abroad cautioned: “Independence means the opportunity for us to frame our own destiny and the need for us to rely on ourselves in so doing. It does not mean a licence to do as we would like. It means work and law and order.
Let us resolve to build a Jamaica which will last and of which we and generations to come will be proud, remembering that especially at this time the eyes of the world are upon us.”
As we of this generation continue on this journey, let us draw inspiration from those who lay the foundation for us, and strive to make Jamaica a better place.
For the original report go to http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/Blood–sweat-and-tears–The-journey-to-Independence_7849657