D. Hamilton Jackson Park in Grove Place on St. Croix will once again host the annual Liberty Day celebration to honor the life of labor leader, journalist and newspaper owner David Hamilton Jackson this Thursday.
The program will include speeches and presentations followed by the serving of roast beef and pumpernickel bread. Gubernatorial and senatorial candidates will be out in force, shaking hands and making a final campaign push before the Nov. 6 general election.
The Grove Place Action Committee puts on the annual event to commemorate Hamilton’s life. Because it nearly always includes a feast, the festivity is also colloquially known as “Bull and Bread.”
“We are going to be cooking up almost 400 pounds of top round,” said Raymond Williams, a member of the Grove Place Action Committee. “And of course we expect all the electioneering to go on with all the candidates, especially those running for governor. We welcome them all to come and celebrate with us. We are expecting a rather large turnout as it is a full term election this year.”
Williams said he wants everyone to remember the purpose of the day and ponder the works and accomplishments of D. Hamilton Jackson.
Vendors need to get permits and get permission from the property owners around the park, he said. The ceremony will be in the park but there is no vending within the park boundaries, he said.
“It is always critical to mention that,” he said. Year after year, people set up on private property and when the police ask them to move sometimes they get indignant, he said.
Williams said he had just come from the park where “they are working feverishly to get the building in a state that we can use it.”
“It should be ready though it isn’t going to be perfect,” Williams said.
Percival “Tahema” Edwards of V.I. Farmers in Action will give a keynote speech. Edwards was born and raised in Grove Place and is known for his work trying to restore the Estate Bethlehem Sugar Factory, which closed in the 1960s, as an historical interpretation center. Edwards is also a long-time proponent of local agriculture and food independence.
The band YGT will perform after the speeches. Two young women from GP For Life, a youth grouped formed in the Grove Place community, will give presentations, one on the life and times of St. Croix journalist and labor organizer D. Hamilton Jackson, and one on the Grove Place Baobab, an ancient, massive tree by the park that a century ago was often festooned with notices and flyers and was a place of meeting. While the specific origin of the tree is not recorded, baobabs are native to Africa and have spiritual significance to some African communities. It was not cultivated by European colonizers.
For those reasons, some plausibly speculate it was purposefully grown from seeds smuggled in by some enslaved person brought to the territory from Africa several centuries ago.
An interpretive dance is also on the agenda.
The celebration is a local holiday in the Virgin Islands, also called Liberty Day and D. Hamilton Jackson Day.
Jackson was born Sept. 28, 1884, on St. Croix in what was then the Danish West Indies. His education began at East Hill School where both his parents were teachers. He went on to earn a law degree.
From a young age Jackson is said to have been interested in the issues of the day, taking a stand and defending his positions with courage and conviction. Jackson played a prominent role in the social, economic and political develop of the islands.
In 1915, with the help of Ralph Bough, Jackson organized the first labor union on St. Croix, the St. Croix Labor Union. He served as president of the organization. The union allowed laborers to use organized protests and discussions for seeking better work conditions and higher wages in place of the physical uprisings of the past.
Later that year Jackson was selected by the union to travel to Denmark and intercede on their behalf by informing King Christian X and the Danish Parliament of the living and work conditions of the people and to advocate for higher wages and health benefits. The business sector was irritated and considered Jackson a “trouble maker.”
Among the workers and residents of St. Croix, however, his commitment against strict labor laws that confined free people to work for a few landowners in poor conditions immortalized him as the “Black Moses,” according to Government House. The results of his efforts were improved wages and labor laws beneficial to all workers.
On the trip to Denmark, Jackson also petitioned for a free press. Since 1779 the Danish government had strict censorship on all publications in the islands. There was an ordinance authorizing only government-subsidized newspapers. Jackson was successful in having the censorship removed. Shortly after returning home he published the first free press publication on St. Croix, The Herald. Jackson served as the editor of the newspaper and used it as a voice for the people to expose corruption and to educate the laboring class.
In the early 1900’s Denmark was considering selling the islands to the United States. Jackson, who was frustrated with the empty promises for reform that the Danish government had always given, led the way to gaining support for the transfer of the islands. The Danish West Indies was transferred to the United States in 1917.
Jackson served on the Colonial Council of St. Croix from 1923-1926 and on the Municipal Council of St. Croix in 1941 and 1946. During these terms he often served as a spokesperson, and in the latter post traveled to the nation’s capital to speak on pertinent issues affecting the new U.S. territory, like citizenship for the islands’ people.
He served as a judge of the Municipal Court of St. Croix from 1931-1941 and played a role in the development of the 1936 Organic Act, the body of laws that gave the territory a measure of self-government over internal affairs.
Jackson was the first chairman of the St. Croix School Board. In private law practice he provided legal services, often without charge, to islanders.
Jackson died May 30, 1946. He had served St. Croix people as an educator, an editor, a labor leader, lawyer and legislator.
The day is a legal holiday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and public schools, local government offices, V.I. Superior Court and the Legislature will be closed. It is also a banking holiday.