06 July 2011

US Virgin Islands Commemorates 163rd anniversary of emancipation from Danish slavery


Festive - but wet - Emancipation Day

ST. CROIX - Rains failed to spoil the annual Emancipation Day activities in Frederiksted as Crucians on Sunday honored the sacrifices made by enslaved Africans who demanded their freedom from Denmark 163 years ago on July 3, 1848.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2009:06:02 10:59:47The History, Culture and Tradition Foundation's Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Committee hosted the activities in Frederiksted, also known as Freedom City.
Emancipation Day commemorates the day thousands of enslaved Africans from plantations on the western end of St. Croix - led by Moses Gottlieb, also known as General Buddhoe, and Admiral Martin King - came into Frederiksted and confronted Danish soldiers, forcing Danish Gov. Peter Von Scholten to declare all slaves in the Danish West Indies free.
The Emancipation Day commemoration started at 5 a.m. with the Fort-to-Fort Walk to Freedom from Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted to Fort Frederik in Frederiksted. Sen. (Senator) Terrence Nelson, who organized the 14.6-mile walk for the 10th year, said the walk started with about 50 people and ended with about 250 people at Fort Frederik.
Nelson said he suspected the number of participants was down this year because of the rain and the fact that Emancipation Day fell on a Sunday.
On their arrival at Fort Frederik in a record time of less than five hours, the walkers were greeted by the sounds of African drums as members of the Per Ankh Ensemble, Dembaya Ensemble, St. Croix Drum Circle and other members of the community performed.
The official Emancipation Day program started several hours later at 4 p.m. and no sooner had the program begun with the sound of a conch, the rain started pouring. Mary Moorhead, a member of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Committee, said they never cancel Emancipation Day activities.
Central High (School) Anthropology Club President Tricia Andrew pulled the podium to the middle of the bandstand and someone held an umbrella for her so she would not be drenched while speaking about the trip she took with 29 other Central High School students to Ghana earlier this year. Others huddled under umbrellas and under the park's shanties as she spoke. Andrew said the trip was invaluable. She said the group saw the dungeons where enslaved Africans where kept before being taken to save ships. She also said they learned of the struggles the people of Ghana have to deal with today including the education students receive.
Attorney Emile Henderson III spoke about the importance of a constitution for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Henderson said the people of the Virgin Islands should continue to pursue a constitution. "Whatever document we put together, we will not all agree," he said. "That would be a utopia."

Mario Moorhead, a local historian, community activist and author gave a detailed account of the events leading up to July 3, 1848. Moorhead said the slave rebellion did not happen overnight, nor did it happen by chance or coincidence. He stressed that Danish Gov. Peter Von Scholten did not free the enslaved Africans of the Danish West Indies because of his love for them, but because he was forced to.

Moorhead said that the beginning of the end of slavery started in 1834 when Great Britain abolished slavery because they could more efficiently produce sugar with cheap labor in India than they could with enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, he said. Moorhead also said beet sugar made an entrance to the market in Europe, contributing to a drop in the price of sugar by a third. Fifty St. Croix estates were shut down because they could not pay their bills and clothing and food rations were severely cut for the enslaved people of St. Croix. Moorhead said.

He said those caught or suspected of stealing, experienced the whipping post, which was located in the middle of what is now Buddhoe Park. "If you broke a piece of cane in the field, and put it in your mouth you'd get the whipping post," he said. Soldiers were instructed by Von Scholten to shoot anyone on site trying to escape the island to the British territories, Moorhead said.

Moorhead said the events leading up to emancipation culminated in July 1847 when the Danish governor announced that all newborn black children in the Danish West Indies would be free, but all others would have to wait 12 years for freedom.

He then said a year later on July 3, 1848, the town of Frederiksted was filled with the enslaved people of St. Croix beating drums and blowing conch shells. When Von Scholten made his way to Fort Frederik and asked the soldiers why they had not stopped the rebellion, they said slaves had stolen the gunpowder from the fort and replaced it with sand. Moorhead said Von Scholten came out to greet the people outside the fort with a big smile on his face and said "all unfree in the Danish West Indies are free."

"This is the only place on the planet, not just the Caribbean, where a people said, 'we are not taking slavery any more,' " said Moorhead.

The Emancipation Day program culminated with a quadrille performance by the We Dey Yah group. The United Caribbean Association also planned a stage a program featuring music, drumming, dancing and skits honoring Emancipation Day later in the evening.

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