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Birth of Independence

From Savannla-La-Mar to Morant Bay, from Above Rocks to Port Maria, as the clock struck midnight on August 5, 1962, the strains of our national anthem were heard for the first time while Union Jacks were lowered and the Jamaican flag unveiled.

Ceremonies took place in parish capitals across the island. In many cases, fireworks lit up the skies punctuating the August 6 birth of the Dominion of Jamaica. At the National Stadium, then Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante, decked out in formal wear, presided over what was described as a stirring event.

"The entire evening was just tremendous," says statesman Hector Wynter, enthusiastically recounting the shared excitement and delight that reverberated through the packed Stadium where over 20,000 people proudly joined in the celebration of movement from colonialism to self-government.
workers sorting flags
Four employees at Jamaica's Government office in Britain sort through 5,000 Jamaican flags, sent from Jamaica for the Independence celebration.

Kingston and all other parish capitals were resplendent with flags and bunting, and many civic and social events took place, including dancing in the streets,

maypoles in town squares, jonkonnu, bonfires, float parades overflowing with beauty queens, as well as tree planting and religious ceremonies.

Lola Ramocan, recalls how as a teenager she, like many of the people in her home parish of Clarendon, dressed in the colours of the flag and crowded into the town centre to celebrate. There were treats for the children and the elderly, and commemorative cups and plates were distributed. "What wonderful souvenirs these made," Ramocan said with a smile, "having one was like holding onto a piece of history."

Theodore Sealy was appointed Chairman of the Independence Committee which was charged with choosing the island's national symbols, flag, and anthem. Hector Wynter, who, like all sitting Senators at the time, had the opportunity to serve on this committee, remembers that experience as a smooth process in which all were united by enthusiasm. As it turned out, Wynter recalls, "the colour choice and design for the flag proceeded quite smoothly. The only hitch was that our initial design was apparently very similar to that chosen by Tanganyika. So we made our gold saltire cross broader." Wynter adds, "it may remind you of the Union Jack in design as both have saltire crosses, but our vibrant colours ­ the gold set against black and green triangles ­ made it our own."

Our anthem married the words of the Reverend Hugh Sherlock to the music of Hon. Robert Lightbourne, both of which were chosen out of many anonymous entries submitted in a public contest. The 300-year-old coat of arms was retained but a new motto ­ "Out of Many, One People" ­ a reminder that the nation is composed of people of many races who have long lived and worked in harmony, was added.
Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret wishing Jamaica well during her handover speech in Parliament.


On August 7, 1962 - which had also been declared a holiday - the first session of Jamaica's parliament took place. Princess Margaret, wished Jamaica well on behalf of her sister, the Queen, and handed over the constitutional documents to Sir Alexander. She said she was proud to be associated with this event and welcomed the new nation to the Commonwealth Family.


Bustamante, responding to Princess Margaret and addressing Jamaicans at home and abroad as the island's first Prime Minister, cautioned on that same August 7 morning:
"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 eyes of the world are upon us." Bustamante's message was also carried in a special supplement in the New York Times commemorating Jamaica's independence.

Norman Manley, then Leader of the Opposition, also reminded the nation: "We stand here today surrounded by an unseen host of witnesses-who through all our history strove to keep alight the torch of freedom-and what of the future? We have come to Independence prepared and ready to shoulder our new responsibilities and united I believe in one single hope that we may make our small country a safe and happy home for all our people."

The themes of both of these addresses and those of many others given that day and on countless anniversaries can aptly be summed up in the words of our National Anthem ­ described by Sherlock and Bennett (1998) as "a prayer of a small, newly-independent nation for guidance and protection for themselves and for the island they love." Today, that prayer is just as relevant as it was 39 years ago ­ an expression of fervent hope, respectful humility and strong commitment:
Eternal Father, bless our land.
Guide us with thy mighty hand
Keep us free from evil powers
Be our guide through countless hours
Through our leaders, great defender
Grant true wisdom from above
Justice, truth be ours forever
Jamaica land we love.
  Teach us true respect for all
Stir response to duty's call
Strengthen us, the weak to cherish
Give us wisdom lest we perish
Knowledege send us, Heavenly Father
Grant true wisdom from above
Justice, truth be ours forever
Jamaica, land we love

  -- Rebecca Tortello

Sources - C. Black. (1983) The History of Jamaica. England: Longman Caribbean.
The Gleaner, (1995). Geography and History of Jamaica. Kingston: The Gleaner Co. Ltd.

P. Sherlock and H. Bennett (1999) The Story of the Jamaican People. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers.

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
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June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
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All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
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A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
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Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
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The Founding Of the People's National Party
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The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
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Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
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August 7
Sir Kenneth Blackbourne, the island's last colonial governor, became the first Governor-General of independent Jamaica in a simple ceremony at Kings House. This was a short-term appointment as on December 1, 1962, Sir Clifford Campbell, formerly President of the Senate, became the first Jamaica-born Governor- General.

August 9
The Ninth Central American and Caribbean Games opened at the new National Stadium - the first time ever to be held in an English-speaking Caribbean country. Jamaican athletes won many gold, silver and bronze medals.

September 12
Jamaica became a member of the United Nations upon unanimous approval by the UN Security Council.

September 20
Jamaica was admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

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"I am very proud to be a Jamaican. This is the first time I spent sometime and read the history of our country. Keep up the good work and I beleive the old world will see ous in a positive way. Thanks.I am very prode to be a Jamaican. This is the first time I spent sometime and read the history of our country. Keep up the good work and I beleive the old world will see ous in a positive way. Thanks." - Ian

The First 500 years in Jamaica

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