July 4, 2004 – They came marching down King Street in Freedom City, most commonly called Frederiksted, to the rhythm of African conga drums and the blowing of conch shells. Their number was much less than the 8,000 strong that made a similar determined march 156 years ago, but their enthusiasm was evident as cries of "Freedom" and "We want our freedom" rang once again through the streets.
Dozens – some in period era garb, some in every day clothes – and about 25 members of Generation Now! re-enacted what is said to be the turning point in the history of the Danish West Indies, the slave rebellion of 1848. That revolt was lead by Moses "Gen. Buddhoe" Gottleib.
In 1848, Buddhoe was an enslaved African who could travel from plantation to plantation. He was a master sugar boiler and was hired out to virtually every sugar plantation on St. Croix. Buddhoe could read and write and was knowledgeable in world affairs. He used his skill and knowledge to organize the slaves in demanding their freedom.
Prompted by the takeover of Fort Frederick, the military stronghold in St. Croix and threats by the slaves to "burn down the town of Frederiksted," Gov. General Peter Von Scholten reluctantly said "from this day onward all unfree in the Danish West Indies are free."
The events of that day ushered in a new era between the black working class and the Danish Crown. This proclamation freed not only the blacks in Frederiksted, which was the capital of the Danish West Indies, but also the nearly 3,000 enslaved Africans throughout the entire Danish West Indies, including St. Thomas and St. John.
"It's a glorious day in Frederiksted!" were the words of Rupert Ross, chairman of the Frederiksted Economic Development Organization on Saturday. Ross said the reason we celebrate July 3, is "to honor those from our past who fought for our freedom today."
Several organizations dramatized through dance, music and theatrical interpretation, the meaning of Emancipation Day. About 500 residents and visitors, many in cultural madras clothing, milled around the bandstand in the park named after Gen. Buddhoe. Jamsie and the All Stars, set up near the bronze statue of Gen. Buddhoe, sent the sweet sounds of Quelbe, the V. I. official music, into the air. Cultural arts and crafts were on sale under brightly colored tents. St. Croix was living up to its designation as the the cultural capital of the Virgin Islands," the name given to St. Croix by Gov. Charles Turnbull at the January signing ceremony that declared Quelbe to be the official music of the Virgin Islands.
The masters of ceremonies for the event were John Abramson Jr., and Dr. Edward Nicholas, of the MAAFA Collective and Beyond. They each made opening remarks.
"In order to heal in this present society, we need to look back," said Nicholas. He told the crowd of the African sankofa bird, which is a symbol of learning from the past. Calling slavery the "black holocaust" Nicholas said we must look forward and "face the reality of globalization and high tech jobs."
Radio talk show host and historian Mario Moorhead gave a "historic look back" on the life and impact of Anna Heygard, a "mustee," a person of mixed race, who was believed to be Von Scholten's mistress.
Shequilia Robinson, a fifth grade student at Claude O. Markoe School, read a historical account of the uprising. The Per Ankha Heritage Dancers performed a dance interpretation.
The Emancipation Celebration was a joint effort between Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, the organizers of the emancipation celebration, FEDA, the Office of the Governor, MAAFA Collective and Beyond, the Department of Tourism, and the Department of Agriculture.
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