EDITORIAL: Emancipation Day deserves full attention
Today we observe Emancipation Day, one of the most significant events in our history. Long overlooked, it still has not been accorded the importance it deserves. The low profile it commands is in itself informative.
In 1838 when the slaves were fully emancipated, this did not mean the beginning of good times. While it brought certain benefits, there were many rights and privileges denied the black majority. The slaves were largely still tied to the plantations working under conditions determined by their former owners. There was no widespread access to education and training. For years it was a period of harsh and inhumane treatment.
Years on, there has been an unfortunate and misleading view by some in our society that the celebration of Emancipation Day ought not to be recognised. They argue that it represented a period long gone and there is no need to dwell on the past. Many have stated proudly that we all live in unity.
Such beliefs must not be upheld since that period of slavery and the official end of that injustice must never be forgotten or downplayed. The same way no Jew will overlook the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis, Barbadians must never overlook the significance of Emancipation Day. Indeed, for us it must be seen as even more important that the observance of political Independence.
That the Emancipation “Bussa” Statue is the main landmark associated with this momentous event is telling of our society. We have Queen’s Park and King George V Memorial Park as prominent landmarks and so they should remain. We make the effort to retain all that splendour and glory of the colonial era and wisely so. Our history, the good and the bad, must be known.
In paying homage to the slaves, there ought to be a more fitting memorial which can be properly utilised to reflect the spirit of Emancipation. Yes, even in these challenging economic times such an important landmark must be considered.
Significantly, we have started to salute and speak of black pride during the month of February. At long last many Barbadians have publicly recognised that there is much to appreciate as it relates to great black leaders and achievements. But, Emancipation Day is more than black pride.
As we move forward as a nation, Barbados must have a leading role in the region’s quest for reparations. There is merit in the cause and case being advanced. But there are many amongst us who have their doubts. Professor Sir Hilary Beckles and those leading the charge will need to thoroughly explain to the public the intentions and objectives.
Our Emancipation Day celebrations need to take on greater significance since it is a moral issue which must be embraced by all Barbadians, regardless of colour, class or religious belief. The day ought to have major meaning, rather than being just another public holiday.