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Raced Memories

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 01, 2012

For anyone black and slightly conscious, Emancipation Day should be as exciting as Independence Day. One only has to look at the spontaneous response of Africans on the first Emancipation Day to realize how united we were at the gloriously liberating moment. Listen to Governor George Hill as he reported to the Secretary of State on August 7, 1834:

"I avail myself of the report to you the occurrences that have taken place in this colony since the 1st of August...

"Up until the 31st of July the apprentices universally remained steady at their work but large bodies of them left the estates on the night of that day and flocked into town, where they repaired to Government House and awaited my arrival in the morning.

"I lost no time in meeting them at Government House and summoned Mr. McKenzie and Captain Hay (the latter of whom had that moment arrived from England) and after presented these gentlemen to the apprentices as being sent by His Majesty to superintend the execution of the Law. I again explained to them in minute detail the nature of their actual situation and exhorted them to return to their respective properties.

"The two Special Justices referred to addressed them to the same effect, but they, one and all, refused positively to return to their work.

"The whole day having thus been spent in explanation and exhortation and night being near at hand the Special Justices next notified the crowd that they were required to disperse."

The assembled apprentices ignored the Governor and the Special justices.

Then trouble began.

The Governor reports:

"The police proceeded to take some of the most prominent characters into custody and they were committed to prison.

"From the large numbers who remained in town, which numbers were constantly increasing by fresh arrivals from the country, it was thought prudent to establish strong Guards of the militia in several parts of it [the country].

"The nights passed off quietly, but on the following day hundreds of apprentices again assembled before Government House.

"The justices proceeded in the trial of those who had been apprehended the preceding day and the Police continued to arrest the most turbulent and noisy of those who continued to congregate in the streets.

"But as these proceedings did not appear to produce the slightest effect, and the day being again nearly spent, the justices displayed the signal and required the crowd to disperse, but without any attention being paid to them.

"The Militia were directed to clear the streets which has effected without accident."

That is how the first two days of partial freedom were spent in Trinidad.

Through word of mouth and various proclamations the formerly enslaved knew that the King had sent their "free papers" and they had come into town to claim their freedom.

The palpable fear the governor felt on that day could only be explained by his uncertainty of how freemen would respond to their new condition. Although they protested their new condition (apprenticeship was almost like slavery) they had to remain four more years before they realized their freedom project.

To achieve their end, all the apprentices pulled together as one; no class divisions were discerned; no phony assumptions were made. Our liberation depends on our coming together as we did on August 1, 1834.

Shouldn't this be the lesson that we learn after one hundred and seventy eight years?

Isn't it about time we pulled together as one?

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