the Governor's Speeches

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Emancipation Day: A Call for A Just Society

By H.E. Governor drs. Eugene B. Holiday

Delivered on the occasion of the observance of the
158th anniversary of Emancipation Day

July 1, 2021


Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

My fellow Sint Maarteners,

Good afternoon,

Marie Louise and I bring you greetings for a blessed Emancipation Day. Happy Emancipation Day as we celebrate amongst its symbols of the sea, flamboyant, and our freedom songs, dance and poetry.

We are here at this former slave depot in Philipsburg, on this first day of July twenty twenty-one, to celebrate Emancipation Day under the theme “No More Auction Block”.

The theme “No More Auction Block”, captures the core of the life and struggle of our enslaved forefathers. It captures the essence of the meaning of emancipation; which is a call for just society.

For our enslaved forefathers, Emancipation meant no more being held captive, no more being dropped off at slave depots such as this, no more being bought and sold, no more forced separation from family members. It meant no more denial of property ownership. It meant no more being beaten to work as opposed to being paid to work, it meant no more being governed by the rule of the whip, as opposed to being governed by the rule of law.

For our forefathers “no more” stands for their fight to end these inhuman brutalities and indignities, inflicted on them under the system of slavery based on a difference in skin color. “No more” symbolizes their fight, their cry and their hope for freedom, equality, and justice. That is the message of the spiritual song “No More Auction Block For Me” which was sung by black soldiers during the US civil war.

Standing at this former slave depot here in Philipsburg, is a reminder that this song also echoed the struggle and hope of the enslaved people on Sint Maarten.

The emancipation proclamation on July 1, 1863, is as such a historic and defining moment. A defining moment because it marked the victory of the struggle of the enslaved men and women of Sint Maarten to be free. A defining moment, because it is the moment which forever redefined our collective destiny as one Sint Maarten people.

My fellow Sint Maarteners, My brothers and sisters,

Building on the historic, defining emancipation moment, the people of Sint Maarten have through hard work and resilience, reshaped Sint Maarten into a beacon of hope, hospitality, and opportunity. And I am sure you would agree, into one of the places in the world to live. That my brothers and sisters is not to say that all is well or that the emancipation ideals of our forefathers have been fully fulfilled. It therefore brings me to the question:

What then does emancipation mean for us today?

My fellow Sint Maarteners,

To many among us Emancipation Day is an uncomfortable subject. To some Emancipation Day simply means just another holiday. To some others it is a relic of the past. And to yet others it is a celebration of freedom. These views, though not exhaustive, are a reminder of where we are 158 years since emancipation and at the same time a reminder of how much work we still need to do as a people. Emancipation Day is indeed a holiday, a holiday thanks to the persistence of several amongst us to acknowledge and honor the historic significance of this day. As a result, I hereby commend all who over many years have called for, championed, and advocated the official commemoration of Emancipation Day. Their efforts are a reminder that honoring and respecting freedom, equality, and justice are not automatic. Regrettably, our freedoms and human rights are to be fought for and protected continually. It is therefore a National Holiday that obligates each of us to continue to fight for freedom, equality, and justice for all.

For while social, economic, and political conditions have changed and significant progress has been achieved since the proclamation of emancipation in 1863, the ideals of emancipation to create a free, equal, and just society for all remain current today.

We are reminded of this in the following words of Martin Luther King Jr., where he states and I quote: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be” unquote. In other words, my freedom, safety, and wellbeing depend on yours and vice-versa. The COVID-19 pandemic is in this regard a stark reminder of our interdependence and calls for us to always do the right thing for our self and for our fellow citizens.

Emancipation as a call for a just society therefore summons each of us to national service. That is, it summons us to do our part to eradicate racial, social, and cultural prejudices and inequalities in our society. Building on the ideals of our forefather Emancipation Day reminds:
• To act to ensure that our students stay in school to become agents of economic and social change;
• To act to provide greater employment opportunities for our youth to help counter poverty;
• To act to secure more affordable housing; and
• To act to improve access to health care.

Emancipation Day as a call for a just society therefore summons each of us to take up one of those or another just social cause to promote and realize equal opportunities, equal rights, and justice, irrespective of race, creed, sex, or country of origin.

My Fellow Sint Maarteners, it is with that ideal for our Emancipation Day that I congratulate all of you on and wish you a most Happy Emancipation Day Celebration.
Thank you,
God Bless you, and
May God Bless Sint Maarten and protect its coast.