Somewhere along the historical line, Emancipation Day, in the Bahamas, became considered a negro holiday. Oddly enough, this was not always so. In 1937, on the occasion of the second 100th anniversary of slave freedom, all business and commerce was halted in the Bahamas.

Nassau, the capital city, came to a stop.

White folks made their way up to Fox Hill to bear witness and participate in the festivities to commemorate freedom… and enlightenment.

(The St. Louis Dispatch, Monday August 2, 1937)

(The St. Louis Dispatch, Monday August 2, 1937)

So Much To Consider and So Much To Celebrate

The first Age of Enlightenment, between 1685 to 1815, characterised a radical shift in European politics, philosophy, science and communications. Revolutionary thinking emerged as Europe gained new, and incredible wealth from two important things: colonisation and slavery.

Suddenly, across Europe, the common man could barter and trade in negro flesh, and find himself rich beyond his wildest dreams. He now had leisure time courtesy of this new found wealth. This gave him time to think, create, write, build great architecture to inspire those who gazed upon it, and the means to educate his children, the future generation.

Without the vast wealth generated by negro slavery in Europe’s new found colonies, for which it sent its most common of citizens to inhabit, Europe may have well remained a horse and buggy and serfdom continent for another 200 years.

If history had been written correctly, the dawning of a second Age of Enlightenment would have been recorded as beginning in 1834, the year of British slave emancipation.

On the question of negro emancipation…

“The resolutions of 1823 passed by the House of Commons on this subject had not been formally communicated to this house, nor was it till the year 1826 that the lordships acquiesced in those resolutions. But in doing so, their lordships, as well as the House of Commons, had established it as a principal no longer to be contested at the time is come when slavery must be abolished. (Hear.)

The only question was as regarded the time when the abolition was to take place. He could well understand the objections that the slave was in too uncivilised a state to enjoy freedom, or to ensure to him the blessings of civilised society.

These he would answer by observing that if the slave were ever acknowledged to be unfit for freedom, still the time had arrived when he was no longer fit for slavery.”

(House of Commons Debate, The Standard (London) 26 June 1833)

No other idea in science, politics, economics or culture represented a more enlightened point of view, than to consider that the negro was neither child nor idiot. He was neither less nor more. His brain was not separate and his blood no less red.

Consider that these ideas regarding the negro were so radical that some thirty years later, America with all of its pompous rhetoric regarding the rights of men, would end up killing 618,222 of its own people in the American Civil War.

360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South, over these very ideas of who was the negro.

(The Wilmington Morning News, Tuesday August 3, 1937)

Even though slavery had been abolished in 1834, it hadn’t really stopped for the majority of those affected. The period of slave apprenticeship began so that slave owners were not entirely deprived of labour. Apprenticeship was also a kind of a pre-freedom probationary period for the negro. Freedom, but with a harness.

If truth be told, apprenticeship was more of a headache than a hallelujah for lawmakers in Britain. Reports soon reached England that negroes across the West Indies were refusing to work, defying their masters or just not showing up for work at all. Magistrate’s Courts were filled with those arrested for offences against the provisions for apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship was supposed to last for up to eight long years after 1834, but in 1837, the British put an end to this quasi-slavery status for Bahama negroes.

This was why there two centennial emancipation celebrations.

One celebration in 1934, and another in 1937.