Breezy, partly cloudy skies greeted the crowd Thursday at the annual Bull and Bread rally honoring early 20th century V.I. newspaper publisher, labor leader, civil rights and civic reformer D. Hamilton Jackson in Grove Place.
Jackson is best known for publishing The Herald, the first V.I. newspaper published independently from the Danish crown. He was a tireless advocate for native Virgin Islanders.
With the sounds of quelbe and aroma of roast meat as backdrop, Senate candidates, families and supporters spent the morning setting up tents and tables with pamphlets and T-shirts, side by side with food vendors setting up their own stands in preparation for a long day of speeches and festivities.
Large gaggles of supporters in colored T-shirts proclaiming their political loyalties moved about the D. Hamilton Jackson Park’s grassy green, with teenagers handing out flyers for senatorial aspirants in between moments of running around like, well, like teenagers.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, Senate President Ronald Russell and Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis spoke about Hamilton’s legacy and the importance of collective action.
"We face challenging times and need to come together to deal with them collectively," Russell said.
Christensen recalled how Jackson fought for freedom of the press, saying that while we have freedom of the press, "not all our papers are locally owned."
She encouraged everyone to vote on Tuesday, saying "honoring D. Hamilton Jackson means exercising this important liberty and casting your vote – a vote that people struggled for, that some died for."
Denise Hinds-Roach, a nominee to the post of Family Court judge on St. Croix and who grew up in Grove Place, gave the keynote address, regaling the audience with a cornucopia of historical detail about Jackson and The Herald.
She recounted the story, well known on St. Croix, of how Jackson traveled to Denmark and successfully petitioned King Christian X to allow independent newspapers in the territory, and then started publishing The Herald with its first paid issue printed Nov. 1, 1915.
Hinds-Roach also recalled some lesser-known tidbits, gleaned from the files of Florence Williams Public Library in Christiansted. For instance, The Herald had a daily vocabulary section, announced in its first edition.
Hinds-Roach read an excerpt from that first newspaper, where the editors said, "We are aware that this paper will fall into the hands of those who are not well informed … therefore we are resolved to do what little we can to help them, as we desire this paper’s every word to be understood by all."
And from its outset, the paper had a goal of promoting justice and peace, she said, citing another passage from that first edition, where the editors wrote: "We are going to use it to the best of our ability in bringing about better conditions, social, political and economical, than have hitherto existed.”
“We know that our efforts will meet with opposition and our motives may be mistaken and misrepresented,” she continued later.
The Herald also had a section of "People’s Complaints," which publicized and tried to right some wrongs. Hinds-Roach read one account of a man who was kicked three times "in a delicate part of the body," by his employer on an estate. The editor wrote a complaint for the young man and the landlord was fined $8 after a trial.
Another story she told of a cane worker who cut two stalks of cane, to eat on the spot, and was arrested for the "crime" and sentenced to eight months in jail.
Apart from the newspaper, Jackson promoted homesteading, purchasing large tracts of St. Croix and splitting them into small parcels that natives could purchase and farm, "including the Hard Labor property on which I grew up," she said.
For Grove Place, Hinds-Roach said his plans were in keeping with the Ghanaian proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child.”
"You could see his vision for Grove through his design,” she said. “His vision was that there would be an open area for children to play – that area is the ball park and bandstand area where we are today," she said.
The idea was that "everybody would be able to see and look out for each other’s children as they played in the center," she said. "That is why Grove has such a strong sense of community and sense of pride.”
"My mother was a little girl when he died. But she would always talk about that funeral and the procession from where he lived on King Street to the Friedenstahl Church, and how basically the whole island just closed down. And for Grovians to travel to Christiansted in 1946 for a funeral, that was no small feat," she said.
Born in 1884, Jackson made an indelible mark on V.I. with his publishing of The Herald in 1915, at the age of 31. As the story goes, the first edition of The Herald was posted upon the Grove Place baobab, and the spontaneous celebration that took place there as a result led to the slaughter of a bull, and the distribution of roast beef and bread to the excited crowd. Since that day, Nov. 1 has come to be known as Liberty Day, D. Hamilton Jackson Day, or Bull and Bread Day. Celebrations were held on Nov. 2 this year as Nov. 1 was a Sunday.
The newspaper was a major milestone, and one which attracted worldwide attention. But Jackson had been organizing labor for some time before then, and earlier the same year, in January of 1915, Jackson successfully initiated a general strike. At the time, most of the people on St. Croix labored on sugar cane plantations under severe work conditions and a standard pay rate of 20 cents a day. The six-week strike crippled a dozen different estates and brought the massive Bethlehem Sugar Factory to a halt at the peak of the harvest. The major landowners and owners of the factory capitulated and overnight wages went up to 35 cents a day – a 75 percent raise.
After the U.S. purchase of the Danish colonies in 1917, Jackson was an influential voice pushing for full citizenship for Virgin Islanders, protesting naval rule and insisting upon civil government, contributing to the passage of the first Organic Act in 1936.
The Grove Place Action Committee organizes the park ceremony every year, putting together a series of speakers, arranging for music and special presentations, and cooking up a giant feast of beef and bread. Every first of November since 1915 there has been a celebration near the Grove Place Baobab — across the street from Grove Place’s D. Hamilton Jackson Park – commemorating the organized labor movement on St. Croix, and in time coming to commemorate Jackson as founder of the movement on the island.
The tradition of serving a huge communal meal of beef and bread to the gathered throng on D. Hamilton Jackson Day led many to start calling the annual celebration “Bull and Bread.” Others try to discourage that name, however, saying it trivializes Jackson’s legacy by focusing attention on the food, not history.
Once the speeches and benediction were complete, D.J. Karl struck up quelbe music on the sound system and everyone lined up for the traditional meal of beef and bread, served up by volunteers from the Grove Place Action Committee. Along with support from government agencies, schools and many dedicated volunteers, Cruzan Rum, Plaza Extra West, Centerline Bakery, the St. Croix Central High JROTC, Grove Place Weed and Seed, and Annaly Farms all helped to sponsor Thursday’s celebration.