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Jamaican Historic Moments
45 Incredible Highlights Since Independence

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Jamaican Historic Moments | CelebrationsJamaican Historic Moments | Celebrations

by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer

Jamaica has had a decorated history since the very beginning. But these Jamaican historical moments have been the highlight of our 60 years of Independence.

This tiny island is no stranger to historical achievements. So, in the spirit of our Diamond Jubilee, let’s look at the Jamaican historic moments since our Independence, 60 years ago.


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  1. August 6th, 1962 - Independence: Our nation’s history began in 1962 when Jamaica gained its status as an Independent country, with Sir Alexander Bustamante as our first Prime Minister.

  2. 1963- The Festival Office created: To ensure the preservation of Jamaica’s culture and history in the newly established country, the Festival Office was established. Its primary function was to promote the creative talents and cultural expressions of Jamaican people.

  3. 1963 - The Wailers Band Formed: The historical Reggae band the Wailing Wailers, was created. Its founding members were Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley.

  4. 1963 - Our First Miss World Title: Carole Joan Crawford became the first Jamaican, Caribbean and woman of colour to win the Miss World competition. Standing at 5’ 3”, she is also the shortest woman ever to win the Miss World title. For her historical achievements, postage stamps were made with her winning image. She also received the key to the city of Kingston.

  5. 1964 - Tokyo Olympics: Jamaica had previously competed in the ‘48,’52’ and ‘56 stagings of the games, but the nation was still under British rule. When the 21 competitors represented Jamaica in 1964, it was the first time our country had independent representation. The 17 men and 4 women participated in 16 events across 4 disciplines.

  6. 1965 - Martin Luther King Jr. visited Jamaica: On June 21st, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King visited Jamaica. The University of the West Indies invited him to address their graduating class. In his speech, he said Jamaica was one of the only places he felt, “like a human being”, speaking to the unity among the multiple peoples who call Jamaica their home.

    He also received the Key to the City of Kingston on one of his 10 trips with his wife Coretta.

  7. 1965 - Order of National Hero: In 1965, the highest honour that can be bestowed on any Jamaican was established and our first heroes were named.
    The order of National Hero was given to Sir Alexander Bustamante and The Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley for their contribution to Jamaica’s Independence and politics. We would then go on to have Marcus Garvey, George William Gordon, Samuel Sharpe, Paul Bogle and Nanny of the Maroons given the same honour for their contribution to Jamaica’s Independence.

  8. 1966 - Haile Selassie Visited Jamaica: On Thursday, April 21, 1966, Emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica and was greeted by thousands of Rastafarians on his arrival.
    This is now celebrated as Grounation Day on the Rastafarian calendar. The only day which holds greater significance is November 2, which is the coronation of Sellassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.

  9. 1969 - Jamaican Currency: Although we had started our journey as an Independent Nation 9 years prior, it wasn’t until September 8, 1969, or Changeover Day when we officially stopped using British currency as our official currency on the island.

  10. 1976 - Second Miss World Title: Cindy Breakspeare (mother of Damion “Junior Gong” Marley, son of Bob Marley) was the second Jamaican woman to win the Miss World title for the country.

  11. 1978 - Reggae Sunsplash: The musical festival Reggae Sunsplash, not to be confused with Reggae Sumfest, held its first annual event in St. Ann. The festival would go on to have yearly stagings until 1996. Outside of a 1998 staging, the event went on hiatus until 2006 when it was revived.

  12. 1979 - The ‘79 Flood: The flood of June 12, 1979, inundated the western parishes of Jamaica, namely St. James, Westmoreland, Hanover and St. Elizabeth. Multiple rivers overflowed their banks and into the towns and homes of many Jamaicans. Michael Manley who was Prime Minister at the time, toured the affected areas to assess the damages.

    At the time, the Meteorological Division estimated the rains to have been over 85 billion gallons of water within 24 hours! The floods not only damaged homes, crops, roads, bridges and other infrastructure but more devastatingly 41 lives were lost. Many communities were inaccessible for a long period due to the damages caused. Some of the most affected places were Leamington, Enfield, Exeter and Chigwell.

    The town of New Market, St. Elizabeth was buried under up to 80 feet of water weeks after the rains had subsided. The market and clinic were relocated to the nearby district of Mocho instead.

    The devastating effects led to the establishment of The Office of Disaster Preparedness which some years later became The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).

  13. 1980 - Jamaica Cultural Development Commission: The JCDC as it is more commonly known, replaced the Festival office and was given the mandate to organise and promote yearly independence celebrations and other functions promoting the heritage of Jamaica. Each year the commission hosts competitions and events for schools and other organisations and societies throughout the island to encourage and preserve the history of Jamaica through song, dance and poetry. They also host training, exhibitions, pageants, parades and other activities both as a single organisation and in collaboration with other organisations as well.

  14. 1980 - First Olympic Medal: Although Jamaicans Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint had already competed and won medals at previous Olympic Games, Merlene Ottey’s bronze was the first medal for an Independent Jamaica as well as the first female medal in the track and field.

    It was also to be the start of an illustrious 24-year career for the sprinter. She has won 9 Olympic medals (3 silvers and 6 bronze) over her 7 Olympic appearances the most for any single track and field athlete in history.

  15. 1981 - Bob Marley Dies: After a private battle with Melanoma (a form of skin cancer), Bob Marley passed away on May 11, 1981, in Florida, USA. He was just 36 years old. The death of the legendary singer sent shockwaves throughout Jamaica, the music community and the entire world as he was a global star.

    “Big as Bob Marley funeral” is a metric system in Jamaica to give context to the size of whatever you are talking about (a person, a thing it doesn’t matter). Following the more intimate service at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, the singer’s body was moved to the National Arena for his state funeral.

    Celebrities, politicians, Rastafarians and other Jamaicans joined the Marley family in celebrating the life of the legend. Some 6,000 people were said to be in attendance.

  16. 1985 - First Grammy Win: With the designation of the Best Reggae album category, Black Uhuru were the first group to ever win the prestigious award. It was for their album, Anthem.

  17. 1985 - Marijuana in medicine: Marijuana which was a banned substance at the time, was found to be useful in the treatment of glaucoma. The eye drop Canasol remains one of the greatest Jamaican inventions to date.

  18. June 1986 - The ‘86 Flood: Much like the floods of 1979, the ‘86 floods left many Jamaicans homeless, caused much agricultural damage and resulted in the loss of 50 lives. It also affected some of the same parishes.

  19. September 24, 1988 - Hurricane Gilbert: This hurricane was so memorable that even now, older people will refer to periods in the past as “before” or “after Gilbert” instead of using actual dates. The hurricane came accompanied by 2.5ft of rainfall and wind speeds of 140mph which lasted the better part of 12 hours.

    It was also monumental in that many Jamaicans up to that point had never seen a hurricane and as such the warnings were not taken seriously. Gilbert caused 7 billion dollars of damages 400 million of which was lost by the banana industry specifically.

    The hurricane left 45 people dead and many homeless. In true Jamaican fashion, music was used as a form of comfort during the trying times for the nation and many songs about the hurricane became popular, especially Lovindeer’s “Wild Gilbert”.

  20. 1988 - Calgary Winter Olympic Games: Jamaica made their debut at the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada. The team of Dudley Stokes, Michael White, Devon Harris and Chris Stokes entered the bobsled competition representing Jamaica. Dudley and Michael finished 30th in the two-man event, and for a sunny island even qualifying for the event is a commendable feat.

    The quartet, however, will always be remembered for their performance in the four-man event. No, they didn’t win, but after their bobsleigh crashed, the team decided they would push their bobsleigh to the finish line.

    This was met with much approval from the crowd who cheered as they made their way to the finish line. If this seems oddly familiar to you, you might have seen the 1993 Disney film Cool Runnings which is based on their journey to the Olympic games.

  21. July 24, 1991 - Nelson Mandela: The renowned leader of South Africa visited Jamaica with his then-wife Winnie, where the honourary Doctor of Laws degree was bestowed on Mandela who dedicated his life to fighting against apartheid.

  22. 1993 - Third Miss World Title for Jamaica: Lisa Hanna who currently serves as a member of parliament and opposition shadow minister, was crowned Miss World in 1993.

  23. 1993 - First Annual Reggae Sumfest: The now worldwide musical event, dubbed the greatest Reggae show on earth” had its first staging in 1993.

  24. 1994 - The launch of A Website: Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to launch a website. Arlene Laing created the http://jamaicatravel.com website, which prompted many other websites including Jamaicans.com which started a year later. Now, searching for Jamaica travel will take you to the informative, https://www.visitjamaica.com/ page.

  25. 1996 - First Female Gold Medal - While Jamaica had a few medals under its belt by this time, Deon Hemmings added a treasured first gold medal by the women that the country had been craving for so long. Who would have known it would become the first of 26 and still counting!

  26. 1998 - Scripts Spelling Bee: Jodian Maxwell became the first non-American to win the Scripts spelling bee at just 12 years old.

  27. 1998 World Cup: Jamaica became the first English Speaking Caribbean Country in the World Cup, the team scored 3 goals before they were eliminated.

  28. September 10th 2004 - Hurricane Ivan: Apart from Gilbert, Ivan is the second most destructive hurricane in Jamaica’s history. With a wind speed of 120 mph, the Category 4 hurricane left 17 dead, many homeless and roadways blocked for weeks.

    The hurricane lasted in Jamaica for 2 days but schools were not able to begin reopening until 25th September 2004.

  29. June 14th, 2005 - First World Record: Asafa Powell shared the title of world record holder with the American sprinter Justin Gatlin for 9.77.

  30. March 30, 2006 - First Female Prime Minister: The Honourable Portia Simpson Miller became the nation’s first female Prime Minister after succeeding P.J. Patterson as leader of the People’s National Party. In 2012, Mrs. Simpson-Miller was listed on Time’s list of 100 most influential people.

  31. September 9, 2007: Second World Record: Dubbed the “sub-10 king” Asafa, now 24, beat his old shared World Record to run 9.74 during the IAAF meet in Italy.

  32. 2007 - Cricket World Cup: Another big sport on the island, Jamaica had the privilege of hosting the 2007 Cricket World cup. The opening ceremony was held at the Trelawny multi-purpose stadium.

  33. 2008 Bejing Olympics - The Bejing Olympics was a great display of Jamaican athleticism which saw to the 11 gold medals the country brought home.

    Usain Bolt beat the world record held previously by Asafa Powell in the 100 metres, lowering it to 9.68 and in the 200 metres where he ran 19.30. Melanie walker also beat the Olympic record in the Women's 400-metre hurdles clocking 52.64.

    The men's relay quartet also ran and broke the men’s 4x100m relay record however, that medal was removed from the tally after one athlete was convicted of using a banned substance.

  34. 2009 - World Record: Usain Bolt broke the 100 and 200-metre records, clocking the fastest times in history, 9.58 and 19.19 respectively.

  35. 2010 - Miss Universe: While we still await our Miss Universe title, we have much to celebrate with many top 10 finishes in the competition over the years. Our closest to the title was Yendi Phillips’ first runner-up placement.

  36. 2012 - Appleton Rum: The limited Edition 50th Anniversary rum was released for Jamaica’s 50th year of Independence. The bottle is the most expensive bottle of rum to ever be sold in the world.

  37. 2012 - 1-2-3 Sweep: With a clean sweep of all the medals in the 100 metres, Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir got the gold, silver and bronze medals respectively.

  38. 2015 - Marijuana Decriminalised: In 2015, Marijuana was decriminalised in Jamaica. It was no longer a chargeable offence to have a limited amount of Marijuana in your possession. Rastafarians and dispensaries were also given special permission to use Marijuana for spiritual or medicinal benefits.

  39. 2016 - Rio Olympics: The Rio Olympics were special for many reasons, but especially because it was the final Olympic Games for Usain Bolt. The entire Jamaican delegation produced 11 medals.

  40. October 17, 2018 - Reggae Girls Qualify For World Cup: The Reggae Girls made their history entry into the female World Cup when they qualified for the competition slated for 2019. They beat Panama to earn their spot on the main stage. While they were eliminated in the early stages, this was Jamaica’s second time in any World Cup since 1998.

  41. 2019 - First Female Grammy: Koffee burst onto the music scene in 2018 with her song “Toast”. Just a year later her album “Rapture earned her, her first Grammy. This was also the first female as well as the youngest ever Grammy winner for the Reggae Album category.

  42. 2019 - Fourth Miss World Title: Toni-Ann Singh was crowned Miss World much to the joy of Jamaica and the second runner-up from Cote d'Ivoire, Olivia Yace.

    This is Jamaica’s fourth title which makes the country 3rd place in all the countries to win the Miss World title. The win was also spectacular for another reason, all the world titles of 2019 were held by a black woman.

  43. 2021 - Tokyo Olympics: The Olympics were originally slated for a 2020 showdown, however, the Covid-19 pandemic had put the world at standstill. In 2021, the show went on the road as originally planned. The Jamaican team and the women notably took charge of the sprinting events. The entire delegation brought home 9 medals in total 4 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze.

    The notable wins were Elaine Thompson-Herah’s 10.60 runs, becoming the fastest woman alive and breaking the Olympic Record. She also placed first in the 200 metres as well with Shelly-Ann Frazer Pryce and Shericka Jackson placing second and third respectively, completing Jamaica’s Independence Day sweep of the medals.

  44. 2022 - IAAF World Championships: The Jamaica delegation went to the Championships in Eugene, Oregon and again they did not disappoint. Shelly and Frazer Pryce won the 100 metres and became the first woman to win gold at the championships in history.

  45. 2022 - Female World Cup Qualifiers: The Reggae Girls have yet again qualified for the 2023 world cup after beating the Haitian team. It is Jamaica’s first time ever earning consecutive qualifications for the world cup and the second appearance by the Reggae Girls.

With just 60 years of Independence, Jamaica has had so much success in sports, entertainment and medicine and we can only look forward to even greater accomplishments.

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References & Sources For Jamaican Historic Moments

  1. Merlene OTTEY-PAGE | Olympics.com,https://olympics.com/en/athletes/merlene-ottey-page
  2. 1986 Jamaica floods - Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_Jamaica_floods
  3. Reconstruction Programme For Flood Damage In Western Jamaica Consequent On June 12 Flood, National Library of Jamaica, https://nlj.gov.jm/MinistryPapers/1979/no.%2056.pdf
  4. Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) | LinkedIn, https://jm.linkedin.com/company/the-jamaica-cultural-development-commission
  5. https://jamaicans.com/emperor-haile-selassies-denial-of-being-the-messiah-jesus-christ/
  6. History of Jamaica~ by Samantha Uy, https://prezi.com/hbr-rzwgsvyq/history-of-jamaica/
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