President’s Emancipation Day message – ‘Remember passion of the slaves’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President Paula-Mae Weekes.

PRESIDENT Paula-Mae Weekes says that as the country continues to grapple with many social ills, its people would do well to remember and emulate the passion, co-operation and unremitting activism of those who were enslaved almost centuries ago.

She made her call in her message to the nation on the occasion of Emancipation Day – when the country marks the end of the enslavement of African people.

She said the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act (1833) in the British Parliament was the triumphant outcome of continuous and unrelenting challenges to the heinous institution of African enslavement.

In pointing to the declining profitability of sugar and unfree labour, growing anti-slavery movement in Britain and constant acts of resistance and revolt by slaves, the President recalled the words of TT’s first prime minister Dr Eric Williams, in his seminal work, Capitalism and Slavery:

“In 1833, therefore, the alternatives were clear: emancipation from above or emancipation from below. But emancipation.”

Weekes said that at the core of the emancipation narrative is the human desire for freedom and refusal to accept anything less.

When on 1 August 1834, Weekes said, the enslaved realised they would be subjected to six years of apprenticeship — slavery by another name — they refused and resisted in various forms until the system was brought to an early end.

She said this long road to full emancipation is a powerful reminder that determination, resilience, courage and unity can overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles; even if not overnight.

In calling for people to remember and emulate the passion, co-operation and unremitting activism of the slaves, Weekes said as a nation whose short history is littered with long, bitter campaigns against oppression, these ought to be values nurtured and upheld by every citizen.

“Let us be guided by common goals, make the necessary sacrifices and remain committed to our cause,” she said.

In commemorating Emancipation Day with a public holiday on Monday, Weekes said, “we have yet to achieve emancipation in full. Let us pay tribute to and learn from their many struggles and sacrifices and be faithful stewards of the freedom for which they fought so earnestly.”