The National:

IT was a process which had its roots in labour riots which became a “galvanising” moment for a new nationalism looking towards a better future.

On the August 6 1962, Jamaica gained its independence from British rule – a moment in the Caribbean country’s history which is marked with a national holiday today.

History professor Matthew Smith, director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London, said it didn’t happen overnight but was a gradual process where “bit by bit, little pieces of power returned to the hands of Jamaicans”.

It began in 1938, when dissatisfaction with low wages and inequalities, heightened by economic hardship of the Great Depression, swept across Jamaica in a wave of spontaneous riots and strikes.

This led to the formation of new political parties and development of trade unions.

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Smith said: “It also created a space in which movement towards self-government could really emerge, where the long history of British colonialism which was close to 300 years in most places by then in the Caribbean, was questioned.

“And the question of whether or not in the 20th Century that movement towards decolonisation - a movement towards self-assertion and independence which was spreading in Asia and Africa - should not also arrive in the Caribbean.

“So that Labour movement was a real galvanising historical moment for the introduction of what may be called a new nationalism – a nationalism not defined in terms of the past, but terms of charting an independent or self-governing future.”

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Another key moment was in 1944, when universal adult suffrage was introduced in Jamaica allowing all adults over the age of 21 to vote.

For the first time, it meant the political future of the country was in the hands of the people and not a select group of the privileged and wealthy.

A third key stage in the Jamaican independence journey took place from the 1950s to early 1960s, with the creation of the West Indies Federation, a political union of various islands in the Caribbean which were part of the British Empire.

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The vision was for a single political ‘state’ that would become independent from Britain and strengthen the states involved.

But Smith said there were concerns in Jamaica that it would be expected to “carry” smaller states.

“That sort of internal regional tension led the government at the time to hold a referendum on whether or not to Remain or Leave,” he explained.

“The Jamaican vote was to Leave overwhelmingly, so that ended the dream of Federation. And it seemed very clear at that point that the next stage had to be independence.”

The process towards independence started “very quickly” after that referendum in 1961, with the country gaining that status a year later.

But Smith cautioned that it was a “tall order” for a small dependent colony.

“It’s a real major revamping of the concept of your world and the world that generations before you knew,” he said.

“That is not easy to achieve – in fact a lot of people, indeed in the referendum but even going into independence and after were hesitant as to whether or not that was a good thing.

“And I think the achievement of independence by 1962 by the persons who envisaged independence, has to be understood within the context of just how troubled and difficult arriving to that point was.”

He said this was why it was important that independence in Jamaica came about through long shifts and “incremental releases of power”.

“It is not a radical, overnight thing – it is bit by bit, little pieces of power return to the hands of Jamaicans,” he added.

He said the debate over the benefits of independence and severing ties with Britain lasted “one or two” generations after independence – with more focus now on the country’s relationship with the United States.

The National:

However the accession of King Charles III to throne has triggered renewed debate about over a link to the colonial days which remains – having the British monarch as head of state. Last year, the Jamaican government officially announced its intention to become a republic by 2025.

Smith said it had been a symbolic attachment which had also enabled some benefits such as scholarships and funding for the island.

But he added: “We are now at a point pretty well settled in the 21st Century where the big question is does such symbolism – especially when again we have such deeper ties now to the United States – does is matter to have that?

“Are we holding on to a vestige of very, very bygone antiquated and increasingly odd looking relationship and fealty to British symbols of Crown?”

He added: “There are aspects of it that involve questions of reparations and reparatory justice which are very important and very salient points that need to be considered carefully and discussed.”

This is the third article in a new series exploring the histories of how countries around the world became independent from Britain.