Today one hundred and fifty years ago the emancipation proclamation went into effect abolishing slavery and declaring the affranchised population of Sint Maarten free persons.
With that proclamation an official end was brought to the slave system of forced labor, systematically and brutally imposed for over three centuries by white slave owners on black men and women merely because of a difference in color for economic gain.
As your Governor – and more so as a Sint Maartener – I cannot adequately express my sentiments of pride, my sense of privilege and my conviction of purpose, as I stand here in celebration of and share with you in this one hundred and fiftieth emancipation day anniversary. As such I herewith in tribute to the courageous Sint Maarten men and women and to the perpetual sacrifices they made for our freedom, ask you to pause for a moment in honor of these freedom fighters.
I shall therefore, in answering the question how free are we, humbled by the sacrifices and indomitable spirit of our forefathers attempt in the next few moments to address you on the promise of emancipation day.
My fellow Sint Maarteners, referring to the July 1, 1863 proclamation during the first and long overdue official emancipation day celebration last year, I stated and I quote:
"that proclamation marked the triumph of the indomitable will of the enslaved men and women of Sint Maarten to be free. ........ ............, it is my hope that today as every Emancipation Day hereafter will be celebrated as the day when the people of Sint Maarten officially became one people. ...... because it marked the triumph of humanity on Sint Maarten ......... A triumph of humanity which must be cherished and preserved by all with the same vigor and unrelenting courage as our forefathers." Unquote.
That emancipation day victory embodied a profound promise from our forefathers: The promise of a free and better future for all Sint Maarteners. That promise was comprehensive and complete. Time regrettably does not permit me to discuss the full extent and nature of that profound promise. I shall thus address three aspects of that promise:
- First, the promise of freedom and equality;
- Second, the promise of opportunity;
- And third, the obligation to fulfill the promise.
Today on the one hundred and fiftieth emancipation day anniversary, I believe that it is fair to say that as a people we – in carrying on the legacy of our forefathers – have made significant strides forward in fulfilling the emancipation day promise. Today one hundred and fifty years removed from emancipation we live in a period where many of us have reaped the benefits of its perpetual promise. For example, more of us have a tertiary level education, own property, or have access to health and retirements benefits than any generation of Sint Maarteners before us. As such we have good reason to celebrate.
This however, is not to say that we can afford to be complacent. Because while we have made significant strides forward, there is where it concerns for example combatting exploitation, in view of certain employment conditions and practices, room for perfecting the promise of freedom from exploitation. And likewise our practices in race relations too often do not match our professions putting excessive strain on the realization of the promise of equality. Moreover, while Sint Maarten is known for its enormous opportunities many of our youth face challenges in education, on the labor market and on the housing market limiting their chances of sharing in the promise of opportunity.
As a result we like our forefathers have the obligation as we celebrate this 150th emancipation day anniversary to renew our commitment to the promise of emancipation day. A promise past down to us from our forefathers to carry forward and fulfill. That is: The promise of a free and better future for all Sint Maarteners.
To fulfill that promise we must – like our forefathers did in fighting for and delivering emancipation – continue unrelentingly to fight to create the conditions and to give all citizens the tools which they need to give them a fighting chance to realize their full potential.
In this regard I recommend that we keep our constitution close and study it regularly. For like the profound promise of our forefathers our constitution anchored in the right of self-determination:
- Promises democracy, equality and freedom for all;
- Promises the protection of the dignity of and value of the individual;
- Promises the preservation of our natural environment; and
- Promises that we will work together to realize our ideals.
My fellow Sint Maarteners, today one hundred and fifty years between emancipation and the ongoing accomplishments of its promise it is my hope that we will continue to honor the values and ideals of the triumph of emancipation day. That is, that we will continue to stand individually and collectively as a unified force working to include all and improve their access to the possibilities in every area of the promise.
On this 150th anniversary let that be our pledge; For what better way to pay tribute to our ancestors and do justice to our descendants than to pledge to and fulfill the promise of emancipation. That my fellow Sint Maarteners is our constitutional obligation as passed down to us through the promise of emancipation day, that my fellow Sint Maarteners is the true measure of how free we are.
My Fellow Sint Maarteners, it is with that sense of obligation and hope for our concerted effort towards the perfecting of the promise of our Emancipation Day, that I congratulate all of you on and wish you a most Happy 150th Emancipation Day anniversary celebration.
Thank you, God Bless you and God Bless Sint Maarten .