Emancipation Day was initially celebrated in the Caribbean to mark the abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies on 1 August 1834. In 1998 Ghana became the first African nation to join in the celebration, bolstering its reputation as the “gateway” to the African homeland for people of African descent in the diaspora.
There are roughly 40 known forts, castle and lodges in Ghana that were used for the slave trade. Three of them – Fort St Jago and Saint George’s Castle (both in Elmina) and Cape Coast Castle – are UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites.
This year’s Emancipation Day took place under the theme “Our Heritage, Our Strength; Leveraging Our Resilience – Black Lives Matter”. It aspired to mobilise Africans worldwide to speak up and condemn injustices against black people and to marshal efforts to purge all forms of cruelty meted our against the black race.
A delegation comprising government officials, traditional rulers and black people living in the diaspora, led by the Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Barbara Oteng-Gyasi, laid wreaths at the grave sites of the pan-Africanists George Padmore, W E B DuBois and Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
Speakers took turns to eulogise the three gallant men for their advocacy in promoting the African cause and their resilience in upholding principles of respect for the dignity and rights of Africans.
In her brief statement the Minister for Tourism said, “Our forebears championed the common good of all Africans instead of petty fights that further divide us, and we must use this day to reflect on their works and strive to honour their memory.”
She also cautioned, “We must make sure we bequeath a peaceful nation to the younger generation, so that they can be able to realise their full potential to the benefit and development of the country.”
We shall remember them
Akwasi Agyeman, chief executive officer of the Ghana Tourism Authority, was resolute. “Ghana will not give up remembering the struggle of our ancestors who stood for us,” he said, recalling how Ghana became the first African country to mark the day.
He urged Africans to embrace their culture and heritage, pointing out the interconnectedness of the African struggle across the continent, the Americas and Europe.
Citing the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, in the United States, the CEO challenged people across the black diaspora, saying: “We remain resilient in keeping up the struggle against crime, injustice, economic underperformance and all forms of social vices.”
Reverend Reuben Kwasi Kwadzofio, acting director of the W E B DuBois Memorial Centre, spoke on behalf of his colleagues, saying, “The emancipation project is not over until black lives and dignity are respected and considered as sacrosanct by all races of the world.”
He also encouraged Africans to take inspiration from the wealth of African history to drive their present lives. “Emancipation Day has not only become an institution in Africa but a very useful tool for the mobilisation of African people to bring finality to the African struggle,” Revered Kwadzofio declared:
Significance of 1 August
Emancipation Day is observed on 1 August in many countries that were former colonies to celebrate the day slavery was abolished.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force on 1 August 1834 in all territories within the British Empire (with the exception of territories run by the East India Company). The day is observed on 1 August in many countries, including Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Jamaica.
In Barbados, it is part of the annual Season of Emancipation which runs from 14 April to 23 August, with a raft of other holidays and memorial days which are connected with the abolition of slavery on that island.
Nana Abena Boakye-Boateng