We, a people of predominantly African ancestry who have historically been pillaged, conquered and confined, must proudly and solemnly celebrate today, August Monday as our Emancipation Day, which marks the 185th anniversary of The Abolition of Slavery Act coming into effect.
Since August 1st, 1834, the journey towards true emancipation has been elusive and hard-fought, but well worth the sweat and struggle.
On August 1st, 1834, an Apprenticeship System was introduced as a modified version of slavery whereby there would be a transition period to freedom.
During the transition, apprentices were required to work without wages for 45 hours per week for a period of four to six years in order to purchase their freedom from their masters; household slaves were apprenticed for a four-year period and field slaves for six years – an arrangement that promoted greater disunity and discord between the two classes of slaves.
Essentially, the Apprenticeship System served to further compensate the slave owners who had been granted generous cash payments; the British government made available £20 million to pay 47,000 claims by slave owners for the loss of human property. In sharp contrast, the apprentices received no compensation in return for their years of servitude.
Indeed, the dawn of August 1st, 1834 brought chaos instead of celebration for the apprentices. Distinguished historian Douglas Hall wrote that, “In St. Kitts there were riots. Martial law was declared and a naval force sent from Antigua.” Moreover, a great many of the apprentices in St. Kitts participated in organized strikes and some of them were punished for refusing to work without pay.
In these organized protests, the planter class was confronted with the collective visage of a determined, sturdy people who were in the nascent stages of establishing a formidable working-class movement. The apprentices eventually rallied to victory in 1838 when on August 1st the Apprenticeship System ended prematurely in the face of vocal public opposition and agitation leveled against it by the Anti-Slavery Society and other abolitionists.
Roughly 100 years later in St. Kitts, the plantation workers’ political consciousness had become highly evolved as evidenced by the Buckley’s Uprising of January 28th and 29th, 1935. The landmark uprising saw cane cutters at Buckley’s Estate mount a protest that grew island-wide after being denied a pay increase from eight pence to one shilling (12 pence) for every ton of cane that they had cut.
The Buckley’s Uprising gave rise to autonomous leadership that sprung from the ambitions, hopes and dreams of the ordinary estate workers.
Recognizing the gigantic potential of the people’s yearning for more, Marcus Garvey stoked the fire in their collective belly with his words. Two years after the Buckley’s Uprising, Garvey delivered a powerful address in St. Kitts in November 1937 at the hall of the Mutual Improvement Society.
Garvey told the packed room, “Man is a product of his mind. If you do not train and protect your mind, men with trained minds will subjugate you. People only liberate themselves through their state of mind.” The skilled orator from Jamaica who inspired the Rastafarian Movement also implored the people of St. Kitts to “Try to own something.”
Marcus Garvey continued: “Make St. Kitts your Garden of Eden. If you don’t do it then other men will do it for you…Watch your steps. If there is natural wealth around, somebody is coming after it…Your country can be no greater than yourselves…Your St. Kitts will be no greater than your minds…If there is progress, it will be because of your minds.”
Thirty-one years later in 1968, the first Premier of our country, the Honourable Robert L. Bradshaw, while delivering a speech at the University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago, issued “A Challenge to the Black West Indian,” as his address was titled.
Premier Bradshaw’s assessment was that, “True enough, the black man has been a very successful crusader for political and social reform in the West Indies, and we have gained and maintained political power using it literally to change the face of islands as well as to compel recognition of human worth.”
However, Bradshaw concluded “the black man has failed to take advantage of the economic opportunities brought about by his own political achievements,” while noting, “He seems quite satisfied - even happy - to labour for all and be master of none, seeking jobs here and there instead of trying to create them for himself. This failure constitutes perhaps his greatest challenge today.”
Fast-forward to 2019, my Team Unity administration understands that failure is no longer an option; the people of St. Kitts and Nevis have too much to lose and too much at stake, and as we have seen just this year our citizenry ought to be wary of disreputable buccaneers who would want nothing more than to conquer our natural wealth and for us to play a menial role in its future development.
Your Team Unity Government has therefore gone ahead and reduced the prices of land for commercial properties from $7.00 to $4.50 per square foot in several designated areas, presenting an opportunity for over 200 persons to benefit from this special offer over the next 12 months.
Reflecting the popular will of the people, we are also moving ahead to grant legislative approval for, and to regulate the use of, cannabis for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes.
Last week, we introduced in Parliament a Bill to amend the prohibitive Drugs (Prevention & Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) Act, Cap. 9.08, which forbade the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana. Those prohibitions dated back to a predecessor law of 1937.
Of particular note is the insertion of a new subsection (3) in section 7. This new subsection states, “Subject to subsection (1), a person may apply to the Minister, through the Council, for a licence to cultivate cannabis for personal use and shall be guided by Regulations made under this Act.”
It could not have come at a better time than close to Emancipation Day, an emotionally significant day that signifies our freedoms and rights.
Sadly, too many of our youth have been criminalized and incarcerated in relation to cannabis, and as a result they have lost out on job and travel opportunities, opportunities to study abroad, a good future and a good name. Thankfully, your Team Unity Government has introduced a Bill to expunge the records of those criminalized. We offer a fresh start to our people in a new era of enlightenment and engagement with cannabis.
We are committed to decriminalizing marijuana and in the near future expunging criminal records for related offences of a certain degree while ensuring that the health and welfare of our nation’s children are protected.
In his iconic poem Harlem, Langston Hughes pondered on the question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” He asked: “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?...Or does it explode?”
On this occasion of celebrating Emancipation, there is no better time to acknowledge our painful history, take stock of where we are and make amends for past mistakes. We owe it to ourselves, to the memory of our forebears and to our future generations.
May God Bless St. Kitts and Nevis.