10 Epic Moments in Jamaica’s Early History

Jamaica celebrated 55 years of Independence on August 6, 2017. That’s 55 years of epic Jamaican greatness on the world stage. After being granted Independence on August 6, 1962 from British colonial rule by Queen Elizabeth II, Jamaica has not stopped blazing a trail of unparalleled, outstanding excellence into the annals of history. This little island has been blessed like no other with moments of resplendence on the international stage. No wonder they call us the greatest little island in the world. No wonder we are so respected, revered and emulated. Here are 10 historic moments in Jamaica’s 55-year history of Independence.

1. August 6, 1962: Jamaica becomes Independent

At midnight on August 5, 1962, the Jamaican anthem was played for the first time across the length and breadth of the island. Flags bearing Britain’s Union Jack were lowered, replaced by the Jamaican flag showing off the black, green and gold. Later the next day, a formal ceremony recognising the occasion was held at Up Park Camp, Kingston, presided over by Jamaica’s first prime minister Sir Alexander Bustamante. Jamaicans were jubilant about the end of colonial rule, and the beginning of their self-government, and over 20,000 of them flooded the National Stadium to join in the festivities, not to mention the numbers who gathered in town squares in the island’s parishes to dance and fete in their newfound Independence. (Read more)

2. 1963: The Festival Office is created

The Festival Office of Jamaica was established in 1963 as an entity under the Ministry of Development and Welfare under the leadership of Edward Seaga. By 1964, Hugh Nash, whose made many invaluable contributions to Jamaica’s cultural retention, was appointed director of the Office.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a large crowd at the National Stadium after receiving the keys to the city of Kingston, presented by the Commissioner of the Kingston & St Andrew Corporation, Mr. Eustace Bird. (Gleaner Archives Photo)

3. June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King visits Jamaica

Reverent Dr. Martin Luther King and wife, Coretta, arrived in Jamaica on Sunday, June 20, 1965 to be keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. That Sunday evening at the UWI Mona campus, the 400-plus graduates donned their traditional caps and red gowns and filed into Assembly Hall. Dr. King’s speech was entitled ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age’. (Read more)

4. 1965: The order of the National Hero of Jamaica is created

Three years after Independence, Jamaica decided it was time to honour its own outstanding mena nd women who made invaluable contributions to nation building. Thus, the Order of the National Hero of Jamaica was created, the highest of six Jamaican honours and awards. The first heroes named were Sir Alexander Bustamante and Sir Norman Manley, the founders of the JLP and the PNP respectively, men who served as architects of independent Jamaica.

5. April 21, 1966: Haile Selassie visits Jamaica

The day was declared a public holiday in honour of the Emperor and people had started arriving from places near and far, to form the largest crowd to have ever assembled at the Norman Manley International Airport. They came to the airport any way they could ­ by car, by truck, by bus, by bicycle, by foot. Drum beats and chants were heard almost non-stop, providing an almost hypnotic rhythm. The smell of ganja wafted through the air completing a welcome unprecedented in size and expectation for the Emperor on his first state visit to Jamaica. (Read more)

6. 1968: The Jamaica Festival Commission is formed

The Act of Parliament in September, Act 32 of 1968, broadened the Festival Office’s mandate to encourage the annual Independence Anniversary Celebrations throughout the island, as well as to stimulate the development of local talents.  (Read more)

7.  1969: Jamaica gets its own money

Jamaica got its own currency in 1969, following the switch to a decimal system the year before. The name of major units was to be dollar and minor units, cents. It was strongly felt that Jamaican currency, in addition to depicting aspects of the island’s flora and fauna should have as its most striking feature, images that reflect the ideals of the newly independent country. The Ministry of Finance and the BOJ also decided to have the country’s first two national heroes, the Rt Hon Sir Alexander Bustamante and the Rt Hon Norman Manley, widely regarded as the founding fathers of modern Jamaica, appear on the lower dollar denominations ($1 and $5 respectively) as they were thought to be the ones that would be most widely used. (Read more)

8. September 1980: JCDC is created

In 1980 a Bill was passed in Parliament making The Festival Commission the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), the name by which it is known today, and a name well suited to its work, which has become integrally entwined with cultural development. Today, the JCDC is also responsible for organizing aspects of the country’s annual Independence celebrations.

9. July 24, 1991: Nelson Mandela visits Jamaica

The date was Wednesday, July 24, 1991. Mandela and his wife, Winnie, received an overwhelming welcome from Jamaicans, and were ushered into a full day’s schedule of activities: the unveiling of a plaque naming Mandela Park in his honour in Half-Way Tree, an address to the House of Representatives and Senate at Gordon House, a wreath-laying ceremony at National Heroes Park, a luncheon with CARICOM heads of government at Vale Royal. (Read more)

10. Jamaica goes to the World Cup in 1998.

It was pandemonium on local soil when Jamaica’s REggae Boyz qualified for the World Cup Finals in France in 1998. Potcovers, bucket covers, whistles, and anything else that could add to the cacophony came out of the woodworks as Jamaicans celebrated this historic feat. Reggae Boyz coach at the time, Rene Simoes, came in for high praises, as well as the current president of the Jamaica Football Federation, Captain Horace Burrell. It was the first time the nation’s football team was qualifying for a World Cup final, and for days afterward, the delight and euphoria of football lovers in the country were palpable.


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