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Birmingham holds first slavery emancipation day vigil

VIGIL:Bishop Dr. Derek Webley conducts Birmingham's first emancipation service

THE TRAGEDY of slavery has been remembered with a poignant pre-emancipation day vigil in Birmingham on the eve of five days of celebration to mark Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence.

People gathered in Chamberlain Square to pay tribute to the ‘black holocaust’ of more than 25 million people who perished during the slave trade.

At midnight, those gathered rang a bell to mark the day on 1 August 1838 when slaves greeted the rising sun as a free people.

This followed slave revolts and a movement for the abolition of slavery following centuries of exploitation and cruel treatment under Britain.

There are now plans to mark Emancipation Day each year in Birmingham, as it is remembered all over the Caribbean, including Jamaica.

Carol Cooper, one of the vigil organisers, said: “It is time we laid down some cultural markers that Jamaica is not just about singing and dancing, reggae and rum. There is a lot of misunderstanding about us as a people and we need to understand our history.”

Fellow organiser Elaine Clough added: “We all need to think what we do with our freedom that was so hard won – we must not squander it. Our independence starts with the liberation of self first. It is a testament of our perseverance to never give up.”

In the Caribbean it is said that the spirits of slaves can be seen dancing, wheeling and turning in the dawn of each August 1 as they celebrate freedom.

Dr. Bishop Webley, of the New Testament Church of God,led the first vigil. He said: “The greatest revival starts with a few. We will ensure that the baton is passed on to the next generation who will never forget.”

Soprano Abigail Kelly sang several songs including the African American spiritual Steal Away . The crowd also sang the National Anthem and Redemption Song.

Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore said: “It is simply not possible to talk about slavery without recognising that this trade in humans was driven by commercial ambitions, and that many of the buildings and wealth accrued in Britain came from the profits of slavery.

“Yet, incredibly, it was the slave owners and not the slaved who were compensated for slavery – compensation paid by the British Government to the slave owners for the inconvenience and loss they were expected to suffer form the abolition of slavery.

“As a city with the second largest Caribbean community in the UK, it is important for us here in Birmingham to recognise these facts and, indeed, the importance of black history, black culture and the contribution it has made to the world today.”

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