Despite threats of rain with an ominous cloud hanging above Estate Grove Place, a small crowd still came out to celebrate the life of native son David Hamilton Jackson at the annual party held in his honor.
The three hour program began at noon for the territorial holiday, D. Hamilton Jackson Day, also known as Liberty Day and Bull and Bread Day, which honored the educator, journalist, legislator, and labor leader, who was born in 1884 and served the community until his death in 1946.
Like in years past, politicians, community activists, and students arrived at the park to pay tribute to a man that many view as their hero, like Jennifer Parris, who owns “Parris Tees and Novelties” in Strawberry.
“D. Hamilton Jackson taught us the way of living, that you can take a small amount of something and do wonders with it,” Parris said. “For example, I started with vending… Now, I own my own business, a big building, and I am a landlord and store owner...”
Delegate to Congress, Donna M. Christensen, gave a powerful speech calling for change and for the community to adhere to the values that Jackson exemplified.
“I don’t have to tell anyone here, these are hard, uncertain, and unstable times. How would D. Hamilton Jackson urge us to respond?” Christensen asked. “Most of us would say these are the worst of times…each one of us will have to recreate the village that Grove Place once was.”
For nearly a century, people have been gathering in Grove Place to celebrate the day, November 1, 1915, when Jackson published the first edition of his newspaper, The Herald, after petitioning the Danish King in Denmark to lift the royal edict prohibiting independent newspapers.
According to the story, after Jackson won that battle, the first edition of The Herald was posted on the Grove Place Baobab, causing a great celebration leading to the slaughter of a bull, prompting the distribution of roast beef and bread. Grove has deteriorated over the years, and is now considered by many an area of high-crime.
What Jackson’s probably most famous for in his lengthy list of lifetime accomplishments is organizing the first labor union on St. Croix – the St. Croix Labor Union – which allowed him to campaign for human rights and gain more self-governance in the territory where racial inequality was stifling to most residents.
At the time, most of the people on St. Croix labored on the sugar cane plantations for 20 cents a day; but after a massive six-week strike that crippled the estates and brought the Bethlehem Sugar Factory to a halt during the peak of the harvest, the land and factory owners gave-in to Jackson’s demands: the rate went up to 35 cents a day.
Community Activist and historian Mario Moorhead gave an hour-long key note speech, which gave the rich history of Jackson’s entire life, from the time he was born until his death.
“D. Hamilton Jackson was a far-reaching thinker and he always thought about how his people would react to his thinking,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead explained that it wasn’t until Jackson formed the labor union that people really understood that Jackson’s words carried weight.
“You must remember we are talking about a time when a black man was not allowed to stand in front of a white man and speak unless he was asked.”
After the U.S. purchase of the Danish colonies in 1917, Jackson continued using his influence in pushing for full citizenship for Virgin Islanders, protesting naval rule and insisting upon civil government. His influence contributed to the passage of the first Organic Act in 1936.
Several free people immortalized Jackson as the “Black Moses” of the era after he created the union and improved peoples’ wages. Christensen referred to him as such, and the day’s program carried the moniker as well.
The sun started to peak through the clouds during Moorhead’s speech. Children began to play in the background, swinging on the equipment and frolicking in the warmth.
Paula Heller, the executive director of AZ Academy, brought the entire high school class to the park after her students requested it. Unlike the public schools, the AZ Academy didn’t get the day off for the holiday, and the trip to the park to learn more about Jackson was a great opportunity to interact with the community.
“Right now, the students are studying the American, English, and French Revolutions, so this can tie into their learning about conflict, change, and struggle,” Heller said.
“This is a guy who fought for equality and freedom of the press – to us he’s a great hero, and we need to remember how he lived,” Christian said.
After the speeches and presentations, the crowd went to enjoy the native roast beef and stuffing, led by Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, and served by volunteers from the Grove Place Action Committee.