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Monday, July 22, 2024


July 5, 2002 – Fireworks exploded over the Frederiksted harbor as Virgin Islanders gathered for the end of freedom week activities on St. Croix marking the 154th year of emancipation from slavery for Africans working the Danish plantations in the territory.
Music and laughter echoed through the hills of Frederikshaab, four miles outside of the town of Frederiksted where the Carringtons enjoyed their Fourth of July family gathering. From a patio perched on the west side of their home, the songs of West Indian parody floated through the tradewinds, as the sparkling fireworks lit the evening sky.
"It was a beautiful thing for my wife and me," retired postal employee Ulric Carrington said. His children, their families and his best friend, Orinn Arnold, former District Court clerk, joined them. "Each person added a line and we innovated as we went along," he said of the songs strummed on guitar by his son and jazz musician, Devin.
The week's activities began with an old-fashioned tea party Tuesday evening at the Fort Frederik Museum, where residents enjoyed four hours of skits and antics performed by local actors, poets and playwrights. Traditionally the slaves used the setting of the tea party to mock the formal graces of the Danish high society.
It was at Fort Frederik that more than 8,000 slaves marched in a fiery protest on July 3, 1848, demanding that their Danish rulers release them from the plantation estates. The Crucian insurrection resulted in Gov. Peter von Scholten, guided by Gen. Moses "Buddhoe" Gottlieb, granting freedom to those who had been "unfree."
On Dec. 6, 1972, Gov. Melvin Evans signed into law Act. No. 3349 making July 3 a legal holiday. The measure had been proposed at Bill No. 5645 by then-Senator Felix Francis in the Ninth Legislature.
After 11 p.m., folks began scurrying out to head three blocks away, to St. Gerard's Hall at St. Patrick' School, to bring in the morning with traditional dancing of the quadrille, the French Creole square dance adopted by the slaves on St. Croix.
A sunrise drum gathering began at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday in Frederiksted's Buddhoe Park to summon the spirits of the ancestors. Six persons on a cow bell, congas, bass and djembe drums enchanted early morning passersby, and a few stopped for a meditative moment.
"We decided to get together to bring in the sunrise with music and libations to our ancestors," Assistant U.S. Atty. Alphonso Andrews, an avid drummer, said. "It was a relaxing, healing community meditation."
"The park is a real good location," Andrews said of the waterfront community gazebo, and the group of percussionists hopes to continue gathering on Sundays to provide an opportunity for people to dance or meditate. "It's a peaceful event," he said. "Music is universal, and the drum beat is in all of us."
Wednesday afternoon, residents gathered at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for a service of "thanksgiving and celebration" in honor of the contributions of the ancestors who fought for freedom from slavery.
At about 3:20 p.m., the blowing of the conch shell by Wilfred "Bomba" Allick resonated through the walls of the church, which was originally erected in 1766 but was rededicated on Jan. 15, 1792, after a fire destroyed the original structure. "The plaque over the arched doorway chronicles the event in Danish," the Rev. Robert Wakefield explained.
As quadrille master Bradley Christian welcomed worshipers to the celebration, soothing organ chords filled the sanctuary. Christian spoke of the events of the July 3 revolt led by Buddhoe and of the grave site of Frederik von Scholten, brother of Peter von Scholten, by the entrance on the east side of the church.
"Few days of any history of any country could be as significant as of emancipation," Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said. Von Scholten "did not have the authority, but he had the wisdom to declare that all unfree would be henceforth free. He was the right man at he the right time."
The governor reminded his listeners that the Danish von Scholten's first lady was Anna Heegaard, a woman of color, the daughter of slaves.
The governor urged, "We must continue to fight for emancipation; from the slavery of street violence, domestic violence, child abuse, molestation of our children, ignorance and prejudice of all kinds. We must follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and free ourselves from slavery."
Bill Bass played Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" on his steel drums as the sun moved to the western sky, casting shadows through the stained-glass windows. Other songs of thanksgiving included "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Go Down Moses" and the final hymn of praise, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the Black National Anthem.
"It is truly important that we not forget our ancestors who made this all possible," said St. Croix Administrator Gregory Francis, who organized the service.
The Crucian Coalition Movement joined with the United Caribbean Association Kitchen, the sponsor of the annual emancipation enlightenment program in Buddhoe Park. The program theme, "The Winds of Change is Blowing — Embracing Our Past, Celebrating Our Future," showcased Muslim and Christian spiritual readings, poetry, lectures and musical performances.
The program opened with a candlelight ceremony in honor of Jessica Tutein Moolenaar, St. Croix community activist, who died on Tuesday. Moolenaar was a "symbol of our strong and rich ancestry," mistress of ceremonies Sherleen "Sister Rema" Smith said. "While the physical bodies are few," she said of the small gathering, "the spiritual ancestors are with us."
St. Croix Sankofa, four drummers ages 8 to 15, provided meditative music for their mother, Donna "Sister Asheba" Samuel, as she told the West Indian fable of Anansi called "Tiger and a Mango Tree."
"This is one of the things that is lacking today," she told the gathering. "There is no communication. You can take that [fables] and entertain the children."
Kendall Petersen, vice president of Farmers in Action, reminded the audience of the struggles of the workers at the Bethlehem Sugar Factory, which ceased operations in 1966. The remains of its 15 stone buildings and a village are being cleared of debris by student volunteers.
Petersen urged residents to support the farmers' campaign for economic stability and self-sufficiency. "We must fight for an agricultural industry," he said. "We are a people of rich culture. When they took us off the estates, we were put in housing projects and given welfare."
St. Croix Farmers in Action Inc. was founded by a few local farmers and fishermen who were frustrated with the demise of the agricultural industry in the Virgin Islands. Their goal is to improve the quality of life for farmers and the economic returns on their operations.
Although the turnouts for the Emancipation Day gatherings were small, event organizers and participants agreed that it is important that these cultural activities remain a mainstay in the territory. One resident sitting on a Buddhoe Park bench on Wednesday night said, "It is a shame that more people aren't here. I'm sure if Jam Band was out here playing music, I couldn't find a seat."
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