Fifty years after winning its independence from the British, Jamaican nationalists and supporters gathered at First African Baptist Church on the 1608 block of Christian Street in South Philadelphia on Aug. 12 to celebrate the occasion.
Hundreds of well dressed, brightly clad well-wishers packed the sanctuary of the historic church to join the celebration where they listed to congratulatory speeches and songs.
The church was filled to overcrowding as those seated in the audience could be seen furiously waving their hand held fans to ward off the heat as they observed the program.
Despite the heat and humidity, the audience was responsive, rising to their feet in a standing ovation as Jamaican consulate general, Herman G. LaMont, took the stage to address the assembly.
“This evening, I have two things to do,” he said. “One, give you greetings from the consulate and, two, read the message of the Prime Minster [Jamaican Prime minister Portia Simpson Miller].”
The audience listened attentively as Miller’s statement was read.
“As a nation, we have much to celebrate,” Miller said. “Across the country our patriotism is seen in vibrant Jamaican colors everywhere. Wave high your flag with its strong and solid black, its verdant green and its brilliant gold.”
The pride in their heritage was displayed as guests passionately sang songs of celebration and hope and enthusiastically applauded the patriotic words of the speakers.
In another written address, Stephen C. Vasciannie, U.S. ambassador of Jamaica, spoke of the patriotism of Jamaicans — in America and abroad.
“The fact that activities marking Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence abound across the United States speaks well of the initiative and drive of the Diaspora,” Vasciannie said.
Throughout the program, several references were made to the Jamaican Diaspora now residing in the U.S. and the U.S.’s support for Jamaica and her people.
“Our friends through the United States have continually supported us over these years in all meaningful activities promoted by you, the Jamaican Diaspora in this great country,” said LaMont who, during his address, told Jamaicans to not forget the struggles for liberation endured by their African-American brothers and sisters.
“My message is togetherness,” LaMont said. “Sometimes I don’t believe we truly appreciate the struggles of our brothers here in America. After all, we are all one people – we have just been dropped off in different places.”
Jamaica received its independence from the British August 7, 1962.
On that day, Princess Margaret, representing Queen Elizabeth the second, during the first session of Jamaica’s independent parliament said to the Jamaican people: “My government in the United Kingdom has laid down its responsibilities and has ceased to have any authority in and over Jamaica, after more than 300 years.”
Jamaica was free of colonization.
First Prime Minister of free Jamaica, Sir Alexander Bustamante, was reported to have said in Parliament, “Independence means the opportunity for us to frame our own destiny and the need for us to rely on ourselves in so doing. It does not mean a license to do as we would like. It means work and law and order. Let us resolve to build a Jamaica which will last and of which we and generations to come will be proud, remembering that especially at this time the yes of the world are upon us.”
The celebration at First African, was crafted not only to highlight the independence of Jamaica from Great Britain, but to recognize the great achievements Jamaican people have made at home and abroad, according to Stanley Straughter chairman of the Mayors Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs.
Straughter returned early from a trip to Liberia in order to attend the celebration.
“This is a great time for Jamaica and people in the Caribbean also,” he said. “Their theme is ‘out of many people there is one’ and I think this is a wonderful theme, which we could learn from here in the United States.”