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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024
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Fireburn Holiday Bill Clears Committee

Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson speaking in support of his "Fireburn" holiday bill before the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee Tuesday.Making the anniversary of the "Fireburn" St. Croix labor revolt of Oct. 1, 1878 an official, paid government holiday moved one step closer to reality Tuesday in the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee.
For those unfamiliar with the Fireburn revolt, a little V.I. history might be in order: from Emancipation in 1848 until after the Fireburn, Oct. 1 marked the end of a plantation laborer’s contract, giving the laborer the ability to contract on a different plantation for the next year. The rest of the year, laborers were not allowed to leave their plantation without permission.
Every year after 1848 employers promised better wages and working conditions but never delivered. On Contract Day in 1878 four women on St. Croix, traditionally called queens, organized a revolt to demand all plantations pay the same or better than the St. Croix Central Factory and to repeal the Labor Act of 1849 that kept workers in serf-like conditions.
These V.I. heroines were: Queen Mary Thomas, Queen Mathilde Macbean, Susanna "Bottom Belly" Abrahamson and Axeline "Queen Agnes" Salomon. For five days, much of the West End of the island burned. Over 120 black workers and 20 or more planters were killed before soldiers came in and crushed the revolt. The four queens were imprisoned in Denmark. But the labor laws were quickly reformed.
Sen. Usie Richards said he had been supporting the unofficial celebration of Fireburn since 1977 "at a time when folks stood on the side of the street and jeered and cursed those of us with the willingness and forthrightness to march through the streets with lighted torches commemorating what had happened in 1878."
While supportive of the bill, he nonetheless raised the question of cost, saying the 10 existing paid holidays cost the government $22 million a year, so it would be prudent to offset the roughly $2.2 million expense of adding a paid holiday.
He suggested removing Transfer Day, arguing that it was the least celebrated and least culturally significant of the existing 10, but said he was open to other suggestions, reading off the official list, from Boxing Day to Columbus Day.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes and others agreed cost would eventually have to be addressed, but there was no consensus to address it at the outset. Richards offered an amendment to eliminate Transfer Day, which died for lack of a second.
Voting yea were Sanes, Sens. Neville James, Michael Thurland and Patrick Sprauve. Richards voted nay. Absent were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Celestino White.
Also approved and sent on by the committee was a bill setting clearer noise guidelines for bars and businesses, with established average daily decibel readings from well-defined distances. Commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Wayne Biggs has cited a lack of clarity in the existing statute as an obstacle to effectively policing excessively loud bars and clubs.
Other bills forwarded from the committee:
— establish a farm-to-school program to promote the use of local agricultural products in the public schools;
— update and add detail to the territory’s child pornography laws;
— enact the Interstate Compact for Juveniles – a uniform mechanism for law enforcement and social welfare tracking and supervising juveniles that move across state borders.

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