JAMAICANS, dressed in their black, green and gold in various styles, flocked to national events in the nation’s two cities as well as parish capitals and town squares yesterday to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary of Independence.
The Jamaica 50 Grand Gala — the main Independence event — saw thousands crammed into the National Stadium where they were treated to the country’s rich culture.
President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma; General Colin Powell, former Secretary of State of the United States of America, representing President Barack Obama; Yvette Clarke, United States Congresswoman, representing New York's 11th Congressional District, which includes Brooklyn, a focal point of the Jamaican Diaspora; and Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, secretary general of the Caribbean Community, were among the special guests at last night’s Grand Gala, which also had Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness in attendance.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar; Prime Minister of Guyana Samuel Hinds; Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice of the United Kingdom Kenneth Clarke; and Minister of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, were also among the special guests at Independence activities yesterday.
The threat of rain did not deter men, women and children to celebrate in the varied activities across the island.
Hundreds of Portlanders turned out to support the Independence Day Parade in the Port Antonio Square, despite the lack of electricity from Sunday evening, which forced the postponement of the gospel and
“Let us start this new 50 years with a new beginning, let us keep Portland clean, work together, work harder so we can achieve more and ask God to guide us,” Mayor of Port Antonio Councillor Benny White said in a brief address.
In Montego Bay, a strong spirit of patriotism resonated throughout the Jamaica 50 Flag-Raising and Civic Ceremony staged by the St James Parish Council, in partnership with the Jamaica Cultural Development Committee in Sam Sharpe Square.
“Let us recommit to amplify our patriotic spirit and commit to continue on a mission to build Jamaica. Long live the city of Montego Bay. Long live our blessed parish, St James. Long live Jamaica land we love,” Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris said in his address.
The Montego Bay ceremony came to a climax with a delightful performance from the veteran all-famale group, Ebony, who went down ‘memory lane’, performing festival songs, among other hits of the past, which had the large audience waving miniature national flags handed out earlier by organisers.
A group of senior citizens, who were present in 1962 when it all started, made sure they were not left out of the celebrations yesterday and they all beamed with pride as they spoke yesterday about Jamaica’s achievements. Among them was 79-year-old Peter Williams, a retired Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) sergeant.
“I served from 1952 to 1978 and when I looked back on the journey I am proud; I also look back with a sense of pride when I remember when Jamaica first gained Independence,” said the 79-year-old Jamaican who spoke to the Jamaica Observer while attending the Gordon Town Community Council’s Independence Flag-Raising Ceremony.
The event was one of several organised across the Corporate Area to mark the nation’s Independence Day celebrations.
Stanley Atkinson, who served the JDF from 1943 to 1945, while happy with the country’s achievements over the 50 years, said he was disappointed with the breakdown of discipline in the society.
Emerson Barrett, a Justice of the Peace, said he felt proud to be a Jamaican and that he would not forget a 1957 statement by National Hero Norman Manley that has helped to guide him over the years.
“When Norman Manley said ‘If your mother is a prostitute and a father pushes a handcart he must have the same privilege like those people who live up in Beverly Hills to go to the best school in this country’ it was the start of the social upliftment of this country and a statement I will never forget,” said Barrett.
At the same time, Keith Brown, a resident of Spanish Town, said he was encouraged by the journey and strides the country has made. “Up to this day I still have a special cup that I received at that time and I keep it with pride,” said Brown. He was among scores of Jamaicans gathered in Spanish Town to participate in the main Jamaica 50 celebration for St Catherine.
— Kimmo Matthews, Horace Hines and Everard Owen contributed to