The sound of conch shell horns, drum rolls and the tolling of church bells will be heard on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix Thursday as the territory commemorates the July 3, 1848, emancipation of enslaved Virgin Islanders after a slave revolt on St. Croix.
In a statement released Wednesday, Sen. Myron Jackson, chair of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation, urged citizens to reflect on and acknowledge the events leading up to Emancipation in the former Danish West Indies more than a century ago. And during Senate hearings this week, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson urged St. Croix residents to come out for the annual Fort to Fort walk, starting at 5 a.m. at Fort Christiansvaern and ending at Fort Frederik.
Enslaved Africans in the Danish West Indies were told by decree of King Christian VIII of Denmark in 1847, that aside from newborns, all others in bondage would have to wait twelve years for their freedom. Displeased with that mandate, they quietly organized, planned, and executed a successful revolt under the leadership of Moses “Buddhoe” Gottlieb, Admiral Martin King, and others. They gathered by the thousands at Fort Frederik on July 3, 1848, to demand an end to their oppressive status and demanded their freedom by 4 p.m. or they would burn the town and the plantations that fueled the economy of the colony and Denmark.
Gov. Peter von Scholten agreed to their terms, declaring all slaves in the Danish West Indies were fre from that day forward, in an Emancipation Proclamation that was later read in the towns of Charlotte Amalie and Cruz Bay to the enslaved and free population.
“There are many historic figures who we honor as being leaders in this historic action for freedom, but no movement can succeed without the blessing of those who unite together for a common purpose” Jackson said in his statement. “Let us honor and revere their courage and sacrifices they made for the liberties, freedom and privileges we enjoy today."
On St. Thomas at 9:30 a.m., the Emancipation Day Coalition will gather in Emancipation Garden, site of a former slave market, for a full program to include conch shell blowing, drums, bells, music, dance, spoken word, martial arts, prayers, remarks, and the reading of the historic proclamation. Presenters include the Wachanga Drummers, the Blake family, Faith Wesleyan Holiness Church, Haile Selassie First Ancient Ivine Order of the Iyabinghi, UVI Summer Band and Opera Camp, Pan African Support Group, Environmental Rangers, House of Bobo Shanti, We Grow Food, Queens of the Earth, Faulkner’s Unified Jujitsu School of Martial Arts, Voices of Love, the Rock Collective, Gene Emanuel African Study Group, Jason Meade, Prince Short Shirt, Singer Boy Khamoi, and Soca Heavy II.
On St. John, events kick off at 11 a.m. with an expanded program that will include quelbe, dance, drums, conch shell calls, libation, cultural tastings, choral presentation, plays, reading of the historic proclamation, political commitments, a roundtable discussion, open-mike forum on Emancipation and Independence, and a pan-around-the-neck sunset and torchlight procession. Presenters include Sonia Sprauve, Alecia Wells, Flambo Combo, Marcella, Eddie Bruce, Ital Anthony, Julius E. Sprauve School, Manny Boyd, Laurel Sewer, Pan African Support Group, Sele Adeyemi, Gilbert Sprauve, and Oswin Sewer.
“We’re trying to move Emancipation from being just a footnote,” Dr. Gilbert Sprauve, event co-organizer, said. “We urge participation and involvement in this day’s activities by all on the islands of the territory.”
On St. Croix, events usually kick-off with a bamboula and bonfire July 2. Nelson’s Fort-to-Fort Freedom Walk begins at 5 a.m., commemorating the slaves who walked to Frederiksted to demand their freedom. There will be a sunrise drumming session on the Frederiksted waterfront at 6 a.m, according to the Virgin Islands and Caribbean Cultural Center. The United Caribbean Association will host its annual program starting at 1 p.m. at Buddhoe Park, with libation, drum calls, conch shell blowing, music by Mind, Body, & Soul, and DJ Hatman, and a panel discussion on the topic of freedom with Richard Schrader, Johnny Tranberg, Lethia Brady, Asta Williams and Gerard Emanuel.
Activities will continue from 3 to 6 p.m. in the UCA yard with the Rising Stars, poetry by Richard Schrader, a history lesson by Gerard Emanuel, and various open mike performances.
More information is available by calling 1-340-344-3556 on St. John; 1-340-998-1792 on St. Thomas; or 1-340-772-5063 on St. Croix.