July 3, 2008 -- Crowds filled King Street in Frederiksted across from Buddhoe Park to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Emancipation, hear keynote speaker Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and pay homage to the efforts and sacrifices of St. Croix's enslaved forebears.
Festivities were opened by Betty Wilson and Pamela Richards of the History Culture and Tradition Foundation, along with Frederiksted musician Wilfred "Juni Bomba" Allick blowing a call on conch shells, as Emancipation leader Moses "General Buddhoe" Gottlieb and his lieutenants did July 3, 1848, calling the island's laborers to arms by a pre-arranged signal.
Myron Jackson of the Virgin Islands Cultural Heritage Institute performed a libation, a traditional African ceremony, pouring plain water from Creque spring on the ground while offering a prayer to African ancestors in Yoruba and English.
Grupo Majestad Negra, out of Pinones, Puerto Rico, got the crowd tapping its feet and they played congas and sang in Spanish and African languages, while young ladies in stylized versions of colonial-era African dresses and head wraps performed traditional dances.
Historian and radio host Mario Moorhead enthralled the crowd, telling about the hardships of slave life and the history of how Gottlieb planned the revolt along with his admiral, Martin King, and ultimately forced Gov. Peter von Scholten to declare an end to slavery.
"The whole Caribbean was a sea of misery," Moorhead said. "It was really a sugar mine, where our ancestors were the miners. From sunup to sundown they worked to produce the brown gold. You see how oil has the world economy in a tizzy today? Sugar was a more dominant commodity in the world then than oil is today."
Moorhead said the British learned they could produce sugar cheaper by paying workers on the Indian subcontinent low wages than with slave labor in the Caribbean, and in 1834 the British government abolished slavery.
From 1834 to 1848, slave in the Danish West Indies tried anything to escape to any British island, setting out on makeshift and unseaworthy rafts, he said.
"Nowhere was it more brutal or more miserable than the Danish West Indies," he said. "In the 14-year interval, almost on a daily basis our ancestors had to watch a fellow man tied to this post and beaten until their skin turned to shreds."
He told how Buddhoe and his lieutenants used Buddhoe's status as a master sugar boiler who could travel from plantation to plantation to communicate and plan the revolt. Called by the conch shell and by the beating of the forbidden African gombay drums, thousands of slaves came into Frederiksted and surrounded the heavily armed Fort Frederiksted.
Buddhoe, riding on horseback among the crowd, demanded an immediate end to slavery, threatening to burn the town.
The soldiers in the fort were heavily armed with cannons and rifles. But, Moorhead said, they soon discovered slaves had secretly replaced all their gunpowder with sand. When von Sholten was told this, he had no choice but to surrender and declare emancipation, according to Moorhead.
What would Buddhoe think of St. Croix today?
"If he were alive today he would be crying to see our people re-enslave themselves by crime, by drugs," he said. "We need to unify as one people for the betterment of the whole."
Moorhead introduced Farrakhan, who preached self-development and unification.
"Independence and Emancipation, what is the difference?" Farrakhan asked from the stage, surrounded by 15 well dressed bodyguards standing at attention.
He said the Latin root of the word "emancipate" means to free from your hand- but not necessarily from your control, arguing that black people need to develop independence.
Farrakhan told a story from the biblical book of Ezekiel, of an infant lying in the blood and afterbirth, dying from the pollution of that unwholesome state, until a stranger comes and cleans up the child, giving it a chance to live. He used the story as a metaphor, arguing the crime, drugs, violence and other social ills plaguing many black communities today stem from slavery.
"This is the pollution of the blood of our enslavement we need to be washed from," he said. "The truth shall set you free. Freedom comes from self-development."
Near the end, he brought the story down to a local level.
"Why are we divided in St. Croix when we need unity so badly?" he asked. "What is the antagonism between Christiansted and Frederiksted, between the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor?"
He questioned whether local politicians really run things.
"Yes we've got a black governor, black senators, black this and black that," he said. "But who is governing things? ... On St. John, white people have moved in and built beautiful homes. Taxes went up and black people couldn't afford it. ... Now that couldn't happen if we in the Legislature were for the little man and his right to live in his own house."
The audience cheered enthusiastically.
After Farrakhan spoke, Native Rhythm took to the stage and with Curtis Williams calling the steps, the street filled with quadrille dancing. Around sunset, the music stopped, workers began packing up chairs and railings, and the formal celebration was over.
Mary Moorhead and the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Committee organized the day's activities.
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