Like so many other things this year, the Cup Match 2020 holiday will be unlike any held in many decades, with no cricket and very few of the other events that usually make this midsummer celebration unique, not only in Bermuda but in the world.
If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that Cup Match 2020 can be memorable not for what is missing, but for how Bermuda fills the vacuum.
First, this is an opportunity for families and friends to come together — with appropriate social-distancing, of course — to celebrate the small things that make life worth living. Much has been written about how the shelter-in-place period brought families closer together and now, as life returns to normal, this renewed sense of community should be reinforced.
Second, this is an opportunity to remember why Cup Match was started in the first place: to mark the anniversary of the Act of Emancipation, which brought to an end, permanently, the horrors of centuries of slavery in Bermuda and throughout the British Empire.
The year 2020 will mark the first time that the second of the two Cup Match public holidays is remembered as Mary Prince Day, a long-overdue recognition of the contribution of this Bermudian slave to abolition.
As the first female to write a personal narrative of her experience of slavery in Bermuda, the Turks islands and elsewhere in the West Indies, Mary Prince’s efforts helped to bring about emancipation just a few years later.
The narrative also dispels the notion that slavery in Bermuda was in any way benign or less severe than it was elsewhere. Even allowing for some editorial licence on the part of the abolitionists who worked with Mary Prince to publish her narrative, it is a graphic and horrifying description of the psychological and physical burdens that Bermudian slaves were forced to bear.
It is also worth noting that her description of conditions in the Turks islands describe a place run for the most part by Bermudians that was just as much a plantation as those in Jamaica and elsewhere that are commonly compared negatively with Bermuda.
That slavery was different in Bermuda from elsewhere did not make it better, and this should never be forgotten.
This is also an occasion to remember others who lived through slavery and who helped to bring about its end and to uplift slaves. There is not enough space to record all of them here, or their efforts, but any list would include:
• Jemmy Darrell, the ship’s pilot who received his freedom for guiding the Royal Navy’s fighting ships and later — before emancipation — defended the rights of free black Bermudians to own property
• James Athill, a prominent black shipbuilder before emancipation who petitioned Parliament on behalf of free black people after emancipation. As a result, black and white became equal in law
• Edward Frazer, the black Methodist slave who undertook the work of building the Cobbs Hill Chapel in Warwick in 1825. The church was built at night and on holidays, and took two years to complete. Later freed, Frazer pleaded the cause of black people in Britain. But the chapel, which still stands, was testament to what free and enslaved black people could do on their own
• William Henry Thomas Joell, Bermuda’s first black Member of Colonial Parliament and a founder of the Berkeley Educational Society
• Samuel Parker, owner of the first black newspaper, the Times and Advocate
• Samuel David Robinson, a baker, but much more. He was the builder of the Emporium Building and perhaps the leading black businessman of the 19th century
• John Henry Thomas, a leading Oddfellow. The first meeting of Oddfellows was held at his house. The Oddfellows were, and are, an important workingman’s and service society, which also paved the way for trade unions. Also one of the spiritual fathers of the Berkeley Educational Society
These 19th-century names are taken from a list of the 100 Bermudians who had the greatest impact on the island up to the year 2000, compiled by The Royal Gazette. They were joined by many more from the 20th century, including E.F. Gordon, W.L. Tucker, Eustace Cann and Sir Edward Richards.
But today, as Bermuda goes into the Cup Match weekend, we should also remember the nameless thousands who were enslaved or toiled under the manifest and explicit unfairness of legalised segregation and fought to end it, often by simply surviving.
Bermuda has work to do to become a truly equal place on the basis of race, and there will be disagreements about how best to get there. But this weekend, we should remember the sacrifices of all of those who worked to get the island this far, and we should celebrate how far we have come.