Transfer Day: Danish Prime Minister Says Slavery Is Unforgivable

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in Christansted Friday.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in Christansted Friday.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said slavery was unforgivable when he spoke Friday at the Transfer Centennial Ceremony in Christiansted.

He said the true heroes of those “dark days” were the “men and women of the Virgin Islands who defied suppression. They risked their lives so others could be free.”

“They were not given their freedom; they took it,” he told the crowd of several hundred people who gathered at Christiansted’s Fort Park for the Transfer Day ceremony.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp, speaking after the prime minister, said the prime minister remarks were “warmly received.” He added that he appreciated the prime ministers brutal honesty.

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The prime minister had also said, “We have to free ourselves from the nightmare of the past so we can make our dreams come true in the future.” He mentioned a new program for the Virgin Islands that Denmark will implement. Details of the program were to be announced Saturday.

Another topic that was mentioned by several speakers at the ceremony was the struggle by Virgin Islanders to have the right to vote for the president.

Pamela Richards, chairwoman of the Virgin Islands Transfer Day Committee said, “Do we deserve the right to vote for the United States chief executive? Yes.”

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett gave a brief history of the original Transfer Day, 100 years ago.

“The people of the Virgin Islands were forgotten before the sale and they were forgotten again after the sale,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke told the crowd, “The United States is delighted to share this celebration with the people of Denmark and the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Danish Policeman Niels Nielsen presents a flag to Ryan Branch, completing a 100-year cycle in a family's history.
Danish Policeman Niels Nielsen presents a flag to Ryan Branch, completing a 100-year cycle in a family’s history.

One St. Croix family was celebrating some personal history while marking Transfer Day. Rosie Mackay said that her great grandfather, Walter Bjerg, was presented with the Danish Flag that flew over Government House in 1917. In 1967 her father Walter Mackay was presented a flag. Then in 1992, at the 75th celebration of Transfer Day, she was presented a souvenir flag.

Friday, a policeman from Denmark, Niels Nielsen, dressed in a uniform made to conform with those worn by a Danish gendarme in 1917, who had planned his vacation around Transfer Day, posed presenting a Danish Flag to the great-great grandson of Walter Bjerg – 13-year-old Ryan Branch.

The Transfer Day ceremony, which began at 10 a.m., was preceded by a military style parade that included the two high school’s marching bands. Raymond Williams, a member of the Board of Elections, said, “It started right on time. It was short but wonderful. Very professional and very enjoyable.”

After the ceremony on St. Croix, the dignitaries prepared for a flight to St. Thomas where a similar ceremony was to take place.

Sen. Samuel Sanes was master of ceremony. Other speakers at the event included Sonia Jacobs Dow, centennial commission member; Sen. Myron Jackson, president of the V.I. Senate; and Chief Judge Wilma Lewis, V.I. Supreme Court. Musical entertainment was provided by Lew Muckle elementary students. The national anthem was sung by Tony LeBroh.

The festivities in Christiansted ended with an evening fireworks display in the harbor. After the display, which the large crowd on the boardwalk evidently appreciated, the fireworks barge became engulfed in flames and burned for about a half hour. Early reports were that no one was injured.

Local Republicans took the Transfer Day celebrations as an opportunity to highlight the party’s stance concerning Virgin Islander’s voting rights. The party sent out a press release with the following comment from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

“Generations of Virgin Islanders have joined fellow Americans from the states and territories in wearing the uniform of the Armed Services and steadfastly defending our freedoms and liberties as American citizens in the 100 years since the islands of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island were acquired by the United States from Denmark. While the Virgin Islands is regretfully denied a vote for president, it has been the long-standing position of the Republican Party that Virgin Islanders are afforded equal opportunities and the right to self-determine their own future in the fabric of our great country.”

In March 1917 the Danish West Indies were formally ceded to the United States by Denmark in exchange for $25 million dollars. The islands represented a foothold in the Caribbean for the U.S. Navy, and were considered a base to guard the Panama Canal.

Upcoming centennial events include a Centennial Gala Ball on April 2 at Renaissance Carambola Beach Resort and Spa, St. Croix, and various appearances throughout the upcoming month by Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir. A Transfer Day Symposium will be held May 12 in Charlotte Amalie and on June 9 there will be a Centennial Summit with the topic “Where Do Where Are We Going From Here” in Frederiksted.

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