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One year late, Mary Prince Day will be celebrated at Cup Match

A detail from The History of Mary Prince, a landmark account that in 1831 hastened Britain's ban on slavery (File photograph)

The Cup Match Classic, set to go ahead after being cancelled last year, will be the first with Mary Prince Day to coincide with the cricket.

Rolfe Commissiong, the former Progressive Labour Party MP who championed the renaming, said seeing the match go ahead with its second day honouring the icon for the abolition of slavery was “going to be great”.

“I have a vision of Bermudians coming out for Cup Match, seeing women wearing dashikis and men in African clothing – I think it will be a great experience for everybody.

“Having Mary Prince on the second day is a powerful reminder of the reason for the season.”

The holiday at the end of July has long been linked to the anniversary of emancipation on August 1, 1934, with its first day now known as Emancipation Day.

A Bermudian-born enslaved woman, Ms Prince documented the violence and mistreatment under slavery as well as the harsh conditions endured by slaves raking salt in Bermuda’s former Caribbean outpost of the Turks and Caicos islands.

Her story, The History of Mary Prince, was published in Britain in 1831 and helped add fire to the UK’s campaign to outlaw slavery throughout the British Empire three years later.

Mr Commissiong said he had pushed for a day to commemorate Mary Prince with PLP colleagues back in 2018.

“My former colleague Chris Famous over that same time period had called for the second day of Cup Match not being used to honour Sir George Somers.

“Chris would not give up on that, and I have to give him credit because he succeeded in essentially having George Somers evicted from the hallowed ground of that holiday.”

Sir George was admiral of the relief convoy headed for Virginia whose flagship, the Sea Venture, got separated and ultimately wrecked on Bermuda on July 28, 1609, leading to permanent English settlement.

The second day of the Cup Match holiday was previously Somers Day, but Mr Famous told the House of Assembly in 2018 that Sir George was not appropriate for the recognition.

Although he died in 1611 before the advent of slavery in Bermuda, Sir George was a privateer whose exploits included the sack of Caracas in Venezuela, then a Spanish colony.

Mr Commissiong said the move “vacating” the second day of Cup Match inspired him to put forward Mary Prince as a more fitting candidate.

He added: “It was a no-brainer. A lightbulb went off in my head, and I told Lovitta Foggo [then the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport] and the late Walton Brown we should consider having Mary Prince placed there.

“Ultimately the Government rallied around the idea. I’m very proud of that, for only for Bermudians in general but particularly young women who can look at her legacy with pride.”

The Public Holidays Amendment Act changing Somers Day to Mary Prince Day was approved in the House in February 2020.

But Covid-19 meant the two-day match had to be cancelled for the first time in its 119-year history.

Mr Commissiong said that the Mary Prince story, which had been out of print until the 1980s, was a “refutation” of the narrative that slavery in Bermuda was benign.

The book details the flogging of slaves, including a pregnant woman, Hetty, who was beaten to death.

Mr Commissiong said he saw a link between Ms Prince fighting slavery and his mother Vera Commissiong’s campaign against racial segregation as a member of the Progressive Group in the 1950s.

“Mary Prince grew up in an area called Brackish Pond in Devonshire, in the vicinity where my mother bought a house off Jubilee road on Brackish Pond Lane.”

Mary Prince’s Devonshire connections resulted in Devonshire Bay Park being renamed the Mary Prince Emancipation Park one year ago.

Mr Commissiong noted that Cup Match proceeding depended on the island averting a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 – and how he would commemorate the day was yet to be determined.

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Published July 23, 2021 at 4:14 pm (Updated July 23, 2021 at 4:14 pm)

One year late, Mary Prince Day will be celebrated at Cup Match

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