Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Look at the true meaning of emancipation, says Sturge Town historian

Published:Monday | August 3, 2020 | 12:00 AMCarl Gilchrist /Gleaner Writer
‘ Welcome to Sturge Town’ sign.
Monument commemorating the declaration of Sturge Town as a free village.
Dr Frank Lawrence.
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It took Jamaica over a century and a half after the declaration of abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834, that Emancipation Day, was officially recognised and declared a public holiday in 1997.

Over the 23 years since the official recognition, one could argue whether or not there have been benefits to the society, psychologically or otherwise, and if the observance remains relevant in 2020.

Local historian Dr Frank Lawrence, who was born in Sturge Town, St Ann, a village established in 1840 and declared Jamaica’s second free village after Sligoville, believes the observance of Emancipation Day is still relevant and that Jamaicans should look beyond the annual celebrations and try to see the real meaning of the occasion.

“There is a relevance of a different character, which is the aspiration of the people to excel in education, in careers and in community building,” Lawrence, 87, asserted.

The label of Jamaica’s second free village is worn proudly by Sturge Town folks, those who have emerged and gone on to other communities, locally and abroad, and those who have remained, even as the population dwindles.

Sturge Town has won the Best Community in Jamaica Award, and has produced brilliant students over the years who have excelled at all levels, in almost all walks of Jamaican life.

“That’s the kind of freedom of spirit that it has made to the community since it has been officially declared a celebration; and for us, it’s not just the day, but is the community spirit of freedom that the community tries to relive from day to day.”

MORE THAN THE CELEBRATION

“So the freedom for us is more than the celebration, it is the freedom of spirit to excel. You’ll notice on the school wall we have ‘Striving for excellence since 1842’, and for us in Sturge Town that’s the freedom that we really aspire to. Sturge Town has provided outstanding people in all walks of life. As a matter of fact, is only a judge we haven’t seen coming out of Sturge Town but all the professions, business, farming, politician, we’ve had them out of Sturge Town.”

Long before 1997, Emancipation Day was being celebrated annually in Sturge Town, albeit on a casual level, such as a cricket match and other fun activities.

Since 1997, the observance has taken of a more formal setting, with the annual Bac-A-Yaad celebrations, which have been scrapped this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“But the first of August was always etched in the memory and the consciousness of the people,” Lawrence noted.

“Wherever a Sturge Town person goes they carry the message of freedom, especially in education and career and leadership. We used to say that a player who couldn’t make the (Sturge Town) cricket team, when they leave they come back as a leader of a cricket team (from another community).

LEADERSHIP

“There is that leadership freedom that causes people to realise their leadership capabilities, and their professional and career capabilities; that’s the kind of freedom that we aspire to at this point in time; It’s not always the celebration, but the freedom of being from a village such as Sturge Town. We have created an awareness and love and respect for the village of Sturge Town.”

A monument erected in Sturge Town to mark the occasion of it becoming a free village reads:

“In order to amend the living condition of the newly emancipated African who still paid rent to their former masters for huts occupied on estates, Mt Abyla was purchased for the sum of 400 (pounds sterling) by friends of the Africans residing in Britain and at home; the Rev John Clarke, pastor of the Brown’s Town Baptist Church, and Joseph Sturge of Birmingham, England. Protagonists of the purchase arrangement.

Mt Abyla was divided into village lots and sold to 100 families. Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” – Psalm 68:31.

Lawrence is hopeful that the teaching of the forefathers will resonate throughout the world and continue to inspire people.

“So Marcus Garvey and Marley say we’re to free ourselves from mental slavery, and we have tried to free ourselves from the shackles of slavery by achieving in leadership, career, education, business, politics and all these areas,” Lawrence said.