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All Eyes on 2017 Centennial at 98th Anniversary of Transfer Day

Despite a snapped rope that prevented the Dannebrog, the Danish Flag, from being lowered at the 98th anniversary of Transfer Day ceremony on Tuesday, the focus was decidedly on the Virgin Islands’ future as dignitaries and government officials spoke of plans to use the upcoming 2017 Transfer Day centennial as a platform to address much of the territory’s unresolved business.

Chairwoman of the U.S. Virgin Islands Centennial Commission Pamela Richards-Samuel told the crowd at Tuesday’s ceremony that the upcoming centennial would be an opportunity "to bring a national, as well as international, spotlight to the territory" and to "leverage various critical issues with an eye towards resolving many, if not all, of them."

Those issues, Richards-Samuel said, include "Virgin Islanders’ lack of full citizenship rights under the U.S. constitution, the territory’s political status, the need for a V.I. constitution, the lack of proper care for veterans, full inclusion for the territory in the Affordable Care Act, and other issues that make the commemoration of this historic date, at the very least, ironic."

According to Richards-Samuel, the Centennial Commission has developed a preliminary outline that will divide centennial-related events into themed trimesters over the next two and a half years. She said the trimesters will begin in the fall of 2015 and end at the close of 2017, and that they will encompass exhibits, lectures, documentaries, and performances by a variety of individuals and organizations.

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Richards-Samuel said that entities such as the University of the Virgin Islands, the National Park Service, the Landmark Society, and American, European and African universities will be providing information that can to be translated into touring lectures for the general public and school visits. She also said the commission envisions that carnivals and other annual festivals will be organized around centennial themes.

Richards-Samuel introduced the centennial trimester schedule for the first time on Tuesday as follows:
– September to December 2015: Virgin Islands history before Columbus;
– January to April 2016: Indigenous Virgin Islands inhabitants;
– May to August 2016: Columbus and early European arrival;
– September to December 2016: The Danish West Indies and forced African population migration;
– January to April 2017: The Events that lead to transfer from Denmark to the U.S.;
– April to August 2017: The Virgin Islands under American rule;
– September to December 2017 : Envisioning the territory’s future.

Richards-Samuel stated that a major goal of the Centennial Commission is to reframe Virgin Islands history in a way that moves beyond what she called "singular perspectives."

"To redefine our cultural history as a fusion of African, Danish, American, French and Caribbean cultures begins our true path towards increased inclusion and telling a more comprehensive and authentic collective story," she said.

Both Delegate Stacey Plaskett and Gov. Kenneth Mapp used their remarks at Tuesday’s Transfer Day ceremony as an opportunity to reflect on Virgin Islanders’ ongoing journey towards equal rights as American citizens.

"How long will parts of the United States Constitution not be applicable to American citizens living in the Virgin Islands?" asked Mapp, noting that officials in the Virgin Islands are asked to pledge an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and "those laws of the United States applicable to the Virgin Islands."

Plaskett, during her remarks, mentioned names like Alexander Hamilton, Denmark Vesey, Hubert Harrison and Edward Wilmot Blyden, as a way of pointing out that Virgin Islanders have contributed to U.S. history since the country’s inception.

"The time for Virgin Islanders to be afforded the same equal rights under the 14th Amendment as citizens born in the 50 states is long overdue," she said.

Danish ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen also spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony and suggested that the shared history of Denmark and the Virgin Islands must never be forgotten, especially those events that represent "some of the darkest chapters in Trans-Atlantic history."

Frijs-Madsen said that the Danish government has provided a $2.5 million grant to translate and digitize many of the documents in the Danish archive that relate to the Danish West Indies.

"All the way up to the centennial, more and more files will be made accessible,” he said. “They can be used for educational purposes. This is important, to teach the children of the past. But the past must never become an obstacle for building fruitful ties in the present and the futue. The Virgin Islands and Denmark are living examples of that."

Other speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony included Sens. Janette Millin Young and Myron D. Jackson, Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Dunston, Consul General Søren Blak, St. Thomas-St. John Friends of Denmark President Ronald Lockhart, and Charlotte Amalie High School students Raeniqua Victorine and Mia Vanholten.

Music at the ceremony was provided by the 73rd Army Band of the V.I. National Guard, the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Jazz Combo, the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School Choir and Steel Band, the Charlotte Amalie High School Band and the Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School Flambo Combo.

Lois Hassell-Habtes, chairwoman of the Virgin Islands Cultural Heritage Institute, acted as mistress of ceremony.

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