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Art, Photo Exhibits Honor Former Slaves' Emancipation

July 1, 2006 – More than 300 people attended the opening day of "St. Croix's Maroon Coast: Artists' Impressions," a multimedia exhibit that is part of the 158th emancipation activities being celebrated on St. Croix.
"I'm blown away," Marilyn Chakroff said Friday, while viewing photographs, fabrics and landscape paintings depicting areas of Maroon Ridge.
The history of Maroon Ridge recounts the trials of enslaved Africans who ran away from the harsh injustices of plantation life to live among the rugged cliffs and caves of the area.
More than 20 artists and photographers contributed to the exhibit.
Artist Carly Voight, who also works with the Nature Conservancy, said, "The paintings reflect the artists' impressions of that area."
Voight said the mountainside, with its rugged coastline, has natural caves hewn from the crashing surf. These are the areas where enslaved Africans sought refuge, she said.
"It was a sanctuary, a place where they could live their lives in peace."
The area has been largely untouched since then because the rough terrain makes the landscape virtually uninhabitable, she said.
Voight said the artists' goal was to inspire appreciation of the area as well as spotlight its history.
Artist Maria Henle said, "The area is beautiful; the spirit of the people is still there."
In another area of the exhibit at Fort Frederik, a collection of archival photographs titled "Emancipation: A Look at Our Past to Give a Vision for the Future" showed slaves working in the fields, cutting and transporting sugar cane, selling goods in the market and drawing water from some of the many wells located around St. Croix.
The photos told the story of enslaved Africans who toiled in sugar cane fields without pay from 1773 until July 3, 1848, when the Emancipation revolt took place.
Betsy Rezende and Norma Kreiger, who assisted with the photo exhibit, said that the photos were not from 1848, because cameras were not yet invented, but that conditions of slavery persisted on St. Croix for decades afterwards and the photos had been taken between 1890 and 1912.
Several times throughout the evening, Dean Roberts, a local actor dressed in a top hat and tails circa 1848, loudly announced "All unfree in the Danish West Indies are today free."
Roberts was depicting the Danish Gov. General Peter Von Scholten, who issued the freedom order following a revolt by more than 8,000 enslaved Africans gathered in the park in front of the fort now known as Buddhoe Park. .
Mary Moorehead, president of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Committee that organized the event, said the exhibits evoke a range of emotions from the viewers.
"There are things in our history we have to be proud of," Moorehead said. "Our ancestors rebelled and without one drop of bloodshed were emancipated."
One such component of the exhibit that caused a stir among the attendees was the life-sized replica of a "whipping post" erected near the western gate of the fort.
Slaves were bound to the whipping post, stripped naked and lashed for almost any minor infraction, according to the accompanying plaque.
The whipping post was said to be the first thing destroyed during the emancipation revolt.
Moorehead said she understands that people viewing the whipping post may experience mixed emotions and may want to overlook certain aspects of slavery. Moorehead said it is all part of history.
"We can't preserve our history and only preserve what we want," Moorehead said.
Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights provided the background music at the opening day festivities.
The exhibit will remain open to the public for one month.
Emancipation activities will culminate in a grand fireworks display on July 4th.
Upcoming activities include:
Sunday, July 2
1 p.m.
Buddhoe Classic Native Race
Randall James Race Track
7 p.m.
Emancipation Tea Meeting
Chaired by Olaf "Bronco" Hendricks, Co-Chaired by Asta Williams
Custom Square, Frederiksted
Monday, July 3
11 a.m.
Fungi Turning and Fry Fish Sauce Contest
Buddhoe Park
2 p.m.
Emancipation Re-enactment
Custom Square, Frederiksted
6 – 9 p.m.
Quadrille Dances with Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights
Custom Square, Frederiksted
Tuesday, July 4
Independence Day Cultural Celebration and Fireworks
5 to 10 p.m.
Custom Square, Frederiksted

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