June 22, 2006 – V.I. culture and history, especially St. Croix's, will be showcased beginning this Saturday when the Yesterday, Today Emancipation Committee kicks off the 158th commemoration of Independence Day, celebrated July 3.
It was on that day in 1848 that slaves, beckoned by conch shells and drum beats, marched into Frederiksted and gathered in the area now called Buddhoe Park to demand their freedom in one of the largest uprising in V.I. history. Danish Gov. Peter von Scholten eventually addressed the crowd to announce that as of that day all those who were enslaved would gain their independence – forever embedding his "Emancipation Proclamation" into V.I. history.
Saturday's kickoff will begin with retrospective discussions sponsored by the V.I. Society of Historians. Arnold Golden, former Public Works Commissioner and former candidate for lieutenant governor, will moderate the session, which will feature speakers on topics including the role of women and the Moravian ministry.
One of the speakers, Hortense Milligan-Rowe, will discuss the history of the Maroons, who lived in the northwestern part of St. Croix.
According to Mary Moorehead, president of the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation, the area was consequently named after the group. She added that the Emancipation Committee was borne out of the foundation.
A retired educator, Moorehead also said that Duane Howell will discuss tracing African roots. "He's traced his roots all the way back to the time of the Emancipation," she said.
Moorehead has been working with the Emancipation Committee since 2003 when she said she convinced St. Croix Administrator Gregory R. Francis to assist with celebration funding.
Moorehead said that prior to 2003, the last commemoration was in 1999 when the 150th anniversary was celebrated by the Gov. Roy L. Schneider administration.
There was a lull thereafter, she said.
Then she said that one Saturday she and Juanita Gardine Elementary School Principal Raymond Ross were having their "casual Saturday morning chat," and the idea came up to celebrate the holiday.
The two, who are St. Joseph High School alumni, were actually discussing planning their class reunion around the Emancipation holiday.
"There had been a two-year lull, and we felt like one of the most important holidays on St. Croix was basically being ignored; and so we decided to do something," she said.
That was back in 2002. In January 2003 she approached Francis, who was also a board member with the West Indian Co. Ltd.
Residents were later treated to a parade and a re-enactment of events on July 3, 1848, thanks to donations from WICO and the V.I. government.
This year, Moorehead said, the government anted up $50,000 to help fund the celebration.
However, politics will not be on the program. "The administrator and I decided to do this with the agreement to keep it historical and cultural and keep politics out of it," she said Thursday.
Moorehead said that her role has basically been to get other organizations to "own a part of the celebration." For example, she said, the Nature Conservancy and V.I. Rum Industries is partnering with the Emancipation Committee for the art exhibit set for June 30.
The exhibit will feature contemporary art of the Maroon Ridge area, photo exhibits of V.I. Rum Industries, and photos and sketches of Emancipation Proclamation events.
Moorehead said that in addition to the V.I. government, V.I. Rum Industries and the V.I. Council of the Arts also funded the commemoration.
She said that all of the events are free except the race track events and the African dance because of expenses that were incurred and not planned for.
Moorehead is hoping that residents will show up as they have in the past and simply enjoy themselves.
"We cannot ignore our history because we have much to celebrate," she said, adding that there will be something for everyone, from the hilarious donkey races to the quadrille dance.
Festivities will wrap up with the evening celebration July 3 at Buddhoe Park.
For more information call 277-7485.
The schedule is as follows:
Saturday, June 24
10 a.m. Panel discussion at Fort Frederik
6-9 p.m. Emancipation exhibit Fort Frederik
1 p.m. Donkey races at Randall Doc James Race Track***
8 p.m. African Dance show at Educational Complex***
1 p.m. Buddhoe Classic Horse Racing at Doc James Race Track***
7 p.m. Tea Meeting at Custom Square in Frederiksted
11 a.m. Public Quadrille Dance Customs Sq.
5-10 p.m. Independence Day Celebration at Buddhoe Park
*** Indicates a paid event
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