Jamaica was first
Trinidad and Tobago must be hailed for declaring Emancipation Day a holiday in 1985, since indeed, this is a most important occasion, which shaped our future as descendants of the enslaved. Since then the observance has spread to many other countries which share a common history, enriching our people.
There is one inaccuracy though, that I must correct. T&T continues to be portrayed as "The first nation to declare a holiday to celebrate Emancipation from slavery''. This is in fact not so.
While I do not know how many other countries celebrated Emancipation as a holiday in the past, Jamaica observed and celebrated Emancipation Day as a holiday on August 1, from 1895 to 1962.
Jamaicans in pre-independent Jamaica held Emancipation Day as a day that linked them to their ancestors in a profound way. The solemnity of the occasion was felt by both adults and children.
When Jamaica became Independent on the August 6, 1962, the official observance of Emancipation was discontinued in favour of the Independence Day holiday. In 1997, the Emancipation public holiday was reintroduced.