05 November 2011

U.S. Virgin Islands Honours D. Hamilton Jackson, national hero, on Liberty Day


V.I. honors Jackson as a liberaton

The Black Moses.

Those were just some of the words used to describe Virgin Islander David Hamilton Jackson on Tuesday at an annual event in Grove Place commemorating Jackson's life and contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands.

Tuesday was the territorial holiday set aside to honor Jackson, who was born on St. Croix in 1884 and died in 1946. D. Hamilton Jackson Day also is known as Liberty Day or Bull and Bread Day.

More than 200 people gathered at D. Hamilton Jackson Park in Grove Place for the annual commemoration, which featured remarks by politicians and a keynote speech by historian and radio talk show host Mario Moorhead, along with music and introductions of beauty pageant contestants.

As always, the celebration featured the traditional serving of bull and bread. Moorhead made history come alive as he described Hamilton's life from birth to death, his struggles, his accomplishments and his legacy to the people of the Virgin Islands in a lengthy keynote address.

Moorhead said Jackson's birth to two school teachers was "a rare if not a unique circumstance," noting that Jackson's parents were among the "fortunate few" in the Danish West Indies who were of African descent and also educators. At the time of Jackson's birth, "more than 90 percent of our people could neither read or write," Moorhead said.

He spoke about Jackson's intellectual curiosity and noted that Jackson taught school "until his quick intellect required more of him," and he moved to Christiansted, where he went to work for the owner of a dry goods store.

There, Jackson was able to meet and socialize with people of "like minds," who were troubled by the conditions under which those of African descent were living in the Danish West Indies, Moorhead said.

Eventually, Jackson was able to convince his peers that he needed to go to Denmark to persuade the Danish Crown to grant them freedom of assembly, Moorhead said. Jackson motivated people to make donations to help pay for the trip and went to Denmark in 1915.

While there, Jackson convinced Denmark that the last thing it needed was conflict and social unrest in the islands and that granting freedom of assembly would make the Danish West Indies a more productive place, Moorhead said.

Jackson also won the right to print a newspaper. When Jackson returned to St. Croix, "he was like a rock star, traveling from estate to estate all over the island," using his skills as an orator to electrify and solidify the community, Moorhead said.

On Nov. 1, 1915, the first edition of Jackson's newspaper, The Herald, was published. Moorhead spoke extensively of Jackson leading the effort to form the St. Croix Labor Union and of his demand for better working conditions and wages for agricultural workers. There were 6,000 members "within days," Moorhead said. At the time, wages were 20 cents a day, Moorhead said.

Moorhead described the workers going on strike when planters refused Jackson's demands, and Jackson's pronouncement that "we will eat bush, but we are not going to give in.There was a solidarity on this island that today seems not just unlikely, but impossible," Moorhead said. After some time, the plantation owners asked Jackson to come to the table, Moorhead said. As a result of the negotiations, wages were doubled.

By 1920, the St. Croix Labor Union was so successful that it had negotiated wages of $1 a day, he said.
Moorhead also spoke eloquently of Jackson's struggles and of his lifelong fight to better the lives of people in the territory.

Jackson's accomplishments include campaigning for greater self-governance and human rights in the islands and taking a leadership role in marshaling support for the transfer of the islands from Danish to American rule.

After the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917, Jackson made several trips to Washington, D.C., to protest naval rule in the islands and to lobby for a civil government. He was influential in the formulation of the 1936 Organic Act, the set of laws by which the territory was governed. He served as a member of the Colonial Council and was a judge in the police court, Moorhead said.

"David Hamilton Jackson was a liberator and a fighter for the people right down to the end," Moorhead said. Moorhead also described Jackson as "one of the greatest Crucians who ever lived," and urged the audience to pressure today's educators to teach young Virgin Islanders about Jackson's social philosophies.

V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, Senate President Ronald Russell and Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis also gave remarks about Jackson at the event. Gov. John deJongh Jr. did not attend.

The commemoration, put on by the Grove Place Action Committee working with the Grove Place Weed and Seed Teen Youth Group and supported by donations, wrapped up with the traditional serving of bull and bread: beef, potato stuffing, rolls and gravy, accompanied by taddy, a citrus drink made from sour oranges and limes.