Emancipation Day was reinstated as a Public Holiday by Prime Minister PJ Patterson in Jamaica in 1998 after a six-year campaign led by the late Professor Rex Nettleford.
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It was discontinued as a holiday when Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962. However, at that time, it was not an official national holiday.
The holiday is more than just a welcome break from work when one can lounge around and relax in preparation for the Independence Day weekend. For Jamaicans of African descent, the day is a very important date in their history as a people as it represents the time when their forebears were ‘freed’ from the shackles of chattel slavery.
Emancipation Day is also celebrated in most other English-speaking Caribbean countries and also in the French-speaking countries of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The United States of America, Canada and South Africa also recognise the day.
August 1, 1834 marked the date when all children under six years of age were deemed to be free, but all other slaves were deemed to be apprentices and forced to work 40 hours per week without pay as compensation to their owners. Full ‘freedom’ was not given to the slaves until four years later in 1838.