Emancipation Day 101
Around here, we celebrate Emancipation Day.
What is Emancipation Day?
Emancipation Day, in essence, is the internationally celebrated version of Juneteenth. Celebrated in the United States, Canada, and across the Caribbean, Emancipation Day honours the day that the government announced that slavery would be prohibited. As we know from our Juneteenth article, this announcement did not guarantee the immediate release of captured slaves. However, in Canada, specifically Ontario, and across the Caribbean, this holiday marks the end of slavery. In the United States, this holiday marks Abraham Lincoln’s announcement of the end of slavery and the end of the Civil War.
Similar to Juneteenth, the history of Emancipation Day begins years before the Emancipation Proclamation was even enacted.
The day in which Emancipation Day commemorates is August 1, 1834. Historically, this is the day that the Slavery Abolition Act was enacted. This Act freed more than 800,000 slaves that were captured across British colonies, including Canada and various islands in the Caribbean.
There were many events that led to the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act. The most influential decision that led to emancipation was the economic detriment that slavery caused to the British colonies. Slave plantations could not keep up with the competing plantation economies emerging in Latin America. Due to the competition, slaves were being overworked, which led to slave owners becoming fearful of possible uprisings.
Another factor that led to the creation of the Slavery Abolition Act was the growth of the British Abolitionist movement. Abolitionist movements, which began during the 1770s, were reaching Canada during the 1970s. The movement’s increasing popularity led to the passing of the Act to Limit Slavery. From there, Canada, but more specifically Upper Canada (now known as Ontario), began to move in the direction of emancipation. The Act to Limit Slavery set the framework for the Slavery Abolition Act. At this time, the Abolition Act was only set to liberate enslaved African’s in the Caribbean.
When the Slavery Abolition Act received Royal Assent in 1833, it did not immediately release all enslaved Africans around the world.
This delay in liberation is similar to how the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately mean the release of all slaves across America. There were a lot of discrepancies in the process of releasing enslaved Africans in Canada and the Caribbean. Initially, when the Abolition Act was released, only slaves ages 6 and under were allowed to be released. Those older than the age of 6 were retitled as “apprentices”. Under this title, they were required to work, 40 hours per week without pay. Full emancipation was finally achieved at midnight on July 31, 1838.
Why is Emancipation Day so important to celebrate today?
Similar to Juneteenth, Emancipation Day reminds us of how far we’ve come, and how far we need to go. Black people are still fighting oppression from their government and society across the globe. The failure to recognize Emancipation Day as a holiday is a primary example of the anti-Blackness that lies in the Canadian government.
When Canadians talk about slavery they often refer to it as an “American problem.” We are too eager to forget that it happened here too.Tweet
When it, or rather if it is taught about in schools, it is never addressed as part of Canada’s legacy. We are all too eager to forget that slavery occurred in Canada, which is a form of anti-Blackness. In ignoring slavery in Canada, our government erases the history of Black people from this country. Albeit, it is not a pleasant history; nevertheless, not addressing it fails to give Black-Canadian’s their dues and whitewashes the legacy of the country.
Just as slavery impeded the African-American’s ability to achieve equality, so has it made it difficult for Black and Caribbean-Canadians to find stability or independence in Canada. Emancipation Day acknowledges the fact that slavery happened here too. As a result, Black people are still reaping its consequences in the form of systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination.
In the wake of recent social justice movements, Emancipation Day takes on a new meaning.
Instead of simply celebrating that our ancestors were once liberated from slavery, we are thinking about the ways in which Black-Canadians are still being tied to the chains of systemic racism. This holiday forces us to rectify with the stain of systemic racism that is embedded in our nation; however, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate overcoming this marginalization. This is often why the Canadian Caribana Festival and other international Carnival events occur around Emancipation Day weekend. It is no coincidence. Caribana allows for Black-Canadians to celebrate their culture and heritage in the most beautiful, liberating and eccentric ways imaginable. The true origins of Caribana are not often spoken about in mainstream settings, which again reflects upon the erasure of Blackness, Black history, and Black culture in Canadian society.
Black history is Canadian history.
This is why we should use our voices to have the Civic Holiday recognized as the day that we commemorate Emancipation Day. To ignore the legacy that slavery and white supremacy have had is not the solution. In doing so, we ignore the elements of racism that are embedded in the justice system, government, Canadian culture, and history. By ignoring systemic racism and slavery, we are revictimizing Black-Canadians who have suffered the repercussions of this oppression. This continues to marginalize Black people in our society. In today’s era when police brutality is a prevalent issue, we need to acknowledge slavery to rectify the ways that its legacy is still embedded in our communities today.
How are you celebrating Emancipation Day?
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