How did Jamaica gain independence?
by Nicola Ellis
Jamaicans celebrate independence annually on August 6. It is a day of remembrance surrounding our freedom from colonialism and allows us to appreciate the journey from being a colony to an independent country.
But the fight for freedom began way back in the sixteenth century, encircling a number of rebellions and revolts. The abolition of slavery and the formation of federations in the Caribbean are two prominent factors which pushed the independence of the country.
The Abolition Bill of 1808 was passed to prohibit the African Slave trade. Apprenticeship in 1834 created a pathway for Emancipation and freedom in its entirety in 1838. However, the ex-slaves pressed forward for an independent nation.
In October 1865, the Morant Bay Rebellion led by Paul Bogle resulted in the death of multiple whites. It was a culmination of the social unrest in the island caused by low wages, heinous working conditions along with little to zero representation in government.
The governor at the time, Govenor Eyre, calmed the riot and violence but Paul Bogle was later hanged along with George William Gordon.
George, by the way, was an advocate for poor black people and spoke out against the injustice and oppression we constantly faced.
Govenor Eyre was later sent back to England, but not before enabling the Crown Colony system in Jamaica and demolishing the ancient Constitution that was in place. That ancient Constitution consisted of the powerful land owners who ruled the island in their benefit. Govenor Eyre allowed Jamaica to access a new governmental system which would be governed by the people for the people.
Jamaica economically developed after this change. Railroads and railways were created and allowed for easier transportation of both people and goods. The roads, bridges and railways were owned by the government since 1845.
Educational, social, religious and health institutions were greatly improved which gave aid to the natural increase and prosperity of the island’s population. A new banking system was also implemented that helped to build the national income of the island, and by 1845, cable communications with Europe was established.
In addition, the island’s capital moved from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872. By now, the island was slowly recovering from the its past and creating a better future for itself.
But sadly, by the 1930s, Jamaica fell into a depressive state. There was a strain economically , politically and socially on the island.
Many theorized the factors were based on the decline of the sugar industry, migration of Jamaicans towards better working opportunities which led to a rise in the unemployment rate.
These socio economic factors in total led to the creation of the two main trade unions and associated Political parties, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and the Jamaica Labour Party formed by Alexander Bustamante and the People's National Party and the National Workers' Union, founded by Norman Washington Manley.
Both leaders through their organizations, pioneered Jamaica closer to independence by achieving full Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944.
This new system extended voting rights to all Jamaicans (adults) irrespective of race, sex, or social class. Prior to that, the right to vote was determined by wealth or property of men only - women were not allowed to vote.
Jamaica was essentially now self-governed and would soon become independent of our mother country, England.
The idea of a Council of members in government was abolished and the system of a premier head ( Prime Minister) along with his or team (Cabinet ) was implemented.
The Cabinet would be chosen by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister would be voted in by the population.
The countries in the Caribbean had formed the West Indies Federation as encouraged by the British Caribbean Federation of 1956. But by 1961, Jamaica had left the Federation was well on their way to independence.
In 1962, Jamaica became an independent nation responsible of its own constitution and internal affairs.
This journey towards independence led to our freedom fighters – Paul Bogle, Norman Manley , George William Gordon, just to mention a few, being honoured as National Heroes of the country.