The Emancipation Act of 1834 and Our Shared Freedom Story | National Humanities Center

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The Emancipation Act of 1834 and Our Shared Freedom Story

July 17, 2020

Cantone, Chris (US History and World History I Teacher at Albemarle High School, Albemarle County, VA)

Emancipation; History of Barbados; American History; Teaching; Teachers; Slavery Abolition Act 1833; St. Nicholas Abbey

“To be honest, I’m glad my family didn’t go to America. We ended slavery 30 years earlier. What were YOU guys thinking?”

Our Bajan tour guide of St. Nicholas Abbey told us this as we walked through the sugarcane plantation house. She chuckled, and we along with her, albeit awkwardly. She was right, too; the day before, our research group got to actually leaf through the Emancipation Act of 1834, the physical document that started the process of freedom in Barbados. THE original document! We all casually crowded around the pages and touched them with are bare hands. Compare that with the Declaration of Independence, which literally had a whole movie made about how impossible it would be to steal that document.

The concepts of freedom and liberation are remarkable, almost overwhelming to think about. As such I, along with many others, anchor these to our own experiences. I interact with freedom and liberation in an uniquely American way; I talk about the First Amendment with my US History students, and we discuss the Emancipation Proclamation as a seminal moment in the American story. However, sometimes this lens leads me to think that freedom itself is uniquely American. When I hear the word freedom, and mind immediately jumps to the Stars and Stripes. This, of course, is ridiculous. We didn’t invent freedom; in fact, we were pretty late to the party.

The communities we grew up in shape our worldview. Often, they give us a nearsightedness with regards to monumental events and processes. There are freedom stories from all over the world; it is our job, as global citizens, to learn and grow from them. Therefore, we can better understand and appreciate how each of our communities’ narratives fits within a far greater, and far richer, story.


History / Emancipation / History of Barbados / American History / Teaching / Teachers / Slavery Abolition Act 1833 / St. Nicholas Abbey /

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