Jamaica Celebrates Her First Independence Day with the Raising of The Black, Green, and Gold Flag
Updated: Jul 28
Jamaican Independence; Jamaican Heritage; Jamaican Culture; Jamaican History;
Jamaica’s original inhabitants are believed to be the Arawaks /Tainos, a peaceful people from South America. The island’s abundant natural beauty inspired them to name it ‘Xaymaca’, which translated to “land of wood and water”. In 1509 Spaniards invaded until 1655 when they surrendered to the British. Now called ‘Jamaica’, the country became a British colony for the next 300 years. In the 1800s, slavery was abolished and Jamaicans gained the right to vote, although the British still held power.
During the Great Depression, workers protested inequality and fought the authorities in Jamaica and other Caribbean colonies. In 1943, labor leader Alexander Bustamante won an electoral victory and established a new, more liberal constitution. After World War II, Jamaican leaders developed the government structure to prepare for independence.
On 19th July 1962, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Jamaica Independence Act, granting independence as of 6th August 1962 with The Queen as Head of State. On that day, the Union Jack was ceremonially lowered and replaced by the Jamaican flag throughout the country.
How did Jamaica become Independent?
In the 1940s, 2 prominent Jamaican leaders (later called fathers of the nation), Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) respectively. Norman Manley became the Chief Minister in 1955 and boosted Jamaica’s lengthy journey to become an independent state. Proposals for a Jamaican Constitution in Independence were presented to the House of Representatives in January 1962, demanding freedom, rights and privileges for every Jamaican citizen.
This new Constitution was approved by the Legislature. It encouraged Norman Manley to call General Elections for April, eventually resulting in the JLP defeating the PNP and ascending Alexander Bustamante to the premiership. After independence, he became Jamaica’s first Prime Minister.
On July 19th, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the act granting Jamaica’s independence on August 6, 1962 with the British Monarch (The Queen) as Head of State. The momentous occasion was held at the National Stadium in Kingston which was in the construction phase, slated to host the Central American and Caribbean Games along with Independence celebrations.
Meaning of the Jamaican Flag
Independence also meant that national symbols had to be developed; local competitions were held to conceive a Jamaican National Flag. Twelve design entries were shortlisted, but a winning design wasn’t chosen from that selection. Instead, a bipartisan committee of the Jamaica House of Representatives designed the flag we celebrate today.
The gold reflects the island’s brilliant sunshine and wealth of nature; the green signifies hope and our agricultural resources; the black now symbolizes the strength and creativity of Jamaican people. The black in the flag was originally associated with the many hardships overcome by Jamaicans, but was revised in 1996.
Jamaica’s national flag is one of few around the world that does not include the colors blue, white, nor red. The warmth of our culture and triumphs of our people over the decades have helped catapult the flag to iconic status! Today it is the major symbol of pride and community flaunted by Jamaicans (and Jamaica lovers) all over the globe.
Jamaica Independence Day Celebrations (1962)
Eighteen persons were appointed to an honorable Independence Celebrations Committee under the chairmanship of the Daily Gleaner’s editor, Mr. Theodore Sealy C.B.E. In June, the committee issued an official program for the week-long celebrations scheduled for August 3 -10. The whole island was abuzz with preparations for the grand occasion; multiple rehearsals were held regularly! Everyone, especially school children, were taught the Jamaican National Anthem, National Pledge, and National Motto. The first official guest arrival into the country was in July --- the widow of Mr. James Watson, New York’s first Black Judge (also a Jamaican), Mrs. Violet Lopez-Watson.
Float parades, cultural competitions, church services, and other events energized the island. Televisions were set up in public parks with all eyes focused on the merriments! The National Stadium was officially opened on August 4 by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret before unveiling “A Jamaican Athlete” statue at the venue.
On the big day, school children proudly lined the driveway of Kings House, immaculately dressed in starched and ironed uniformity. Boy Scouts, Brownies, Girl Guides, Rangers, Boys and Girls Brigades marched on the infield of the National Stadium to sounds of the Jamaican Military Band. Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret officiated, and the stadium lights dimmed just a few minutes before midnight. The Union Jack was ceremoniously lowered and the spotlighted Jamaican flag raised throughout the country. “God save our gracious Queen” was sung one last time before a loud and proud crowd chanted the Jamaican National Anthem, “Jamaica Land We Love.” Fireworks illuminated the dark sky, marking a new political dawn for the country; our “likkle but tallawah” island of Jamaica became a member of the British Commonwealth and the first independent state in the Western Hemisphere that century!
Black, green and gold flags, pens, cups adorned with the Jamaica Coat of Arms, and other paraphernalia were distributed on this significant day in history. Babies born on Independence Day 1962 received a commemorative silver spoon from the Government of Jamaica with his/her name engraved on it. Street dances lined with sound systems, hearty food and jubilation galore populated the entire island. Now every year on August 6, Jamaicans celebrate Independence Day!
How Jamaicans Celebrate Independence Day
Born from such a vibrant culture, our people like to gather in joyful spirits to commemorate the historic occasion, no matter where in the world they may be. A combination of black, green and gold is the unofficial dress theme of the Jamaican diaspora surrounding Independence Day. Festivities typically include a mixture of tradition, rocking rhythms, and homestyle food favorites with fellow Jamaicans and Jamaicans at heart. At the core is celebrating the contagious culture that made brand Jamaica the global icon it is today! From good ole lymes to grand affairs, annual Independence Day events are a part of many rituals anticipated year after year. Growing up experiencing events including festival song competitions, agricultural shows, and Grand Galas at the venue where our independence was birthed are treasured memories many if not most Jamaicans can relate.
2021 is the second time in the country’s history that the national Independence celebrations are a virtual roster of events, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Jamaicans home and away may enjoy annual proceedings, like the Grand Gala and Festival Song Competition, on their devices. Internet, radio and television stations have been cornerstones of entertainment during the pandemic, reaching more people than before. With the phased reopening of Jamaica’s entertainment industry in time for Independence Day, more and larger gatherings than the previous year are inevitable.
How do you celebrate Jamaica’s independence?
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An entrepreneur with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. Jackie represents an e-commerce business called "Jamaica So Nice" which offers authentic Jamaican products. She speaks about it with animation, "I love the experience of living in Jamaica, and I introduce Jamaica to the world through the "Jamaican experience," which is captured in our people, culture, products and attractions."
She is a blogger, content writer, engineer, corporate planner, project manager, and musician. Jackie loves to see people transformed through her work.
Jhunelle, born & raised in Kingston & St. Andrew, Jamaica is a travel blogger, exploring her home country and setting her sights on the world. She began purposefully travelling Jamaica following a New Year's resolution to travel more; once she started, her appetite to learn, see, and experience more only continued to grow. Jhunelle has been full-time working in her love of travel blogging for the past two years.
She shares about her creation - www.SimplyLocal.life. "This was built to promote brand Jamaica and inspire travel by sharing its many rewards through my eyes. It mostly highlights Jamaican places to visit, things to do, lifestyle, and businesses."