Nov. 22, 2002 While Gov. Charles W. Turnbull designated Nov. 23 as Freedom Fighters Day across the territory, the chance to learn more about the 1733 slave rebellion on St. John honored on this day will come on Nov. 29.
As usual, University of the Virgin Islands professors Gene Emanuel and Gilbert Sprauve have organized a trek up to Fortsberg, the spot on St. John's East End where the rebellion began.
Extending an invitation to all residents and visitors, not just those with modern roots in Africa, Emanuel said, "Freedom needs all of us."
"The rebellion is an act of significance that lit another light and inspired people," he said.
He pointed out that the Africans who forged the rebellion were a diverse lot who came from different places in Africa. They joined forces for the common goal of freedom.
Emanuel said a program will be held at 11:15 a.m. at the bottom of the hill leading up to the ruins of the fort, because many people can't make the climb to the top. Those who do will honor their ancestors amid the old stone ruins of the Fortsberg garrison.
For those on St. Thomas wanting to take part, the day's excursion begins with taking the 9 a.m. ferry from Red Hook to St. John. Upon disembarking, they will gather with the St. John participants in Cruz Bay Park for an orientation. A shuttle bus will leave Cruz Bay for Fortsberg at 10 a.m., with stops scheduled at Adrian and Catherineberg on the way. Round-trip transportation is $16 from St. Thomas including the ferry and $10 from Cruz Bay.
Once the group reaches the bottom of the hill leading up to Fortsberg, several people will make remarks, including Sele Adeyemi, who will talk about the 1733 rebellion's significance; UVI professor Souley Ousman, who is from Ghana and will shed new light on the event's history; and Leba Ola-Niyi, who will speak on the struggle at Fortsberg.
Sprauve will pay tribute to the Samuel family, which for years has opened up its property to allow visitors access to the site to commemorate Freedom Fighters Day and honor their ancestors. The observance will include the sharing of the traditional libation as well as music and dancing.
The rebellion of 1733 began on Nov. 23, when St. John slaves entered the fort carrying knives hidden in bundles of sugar cane and killed the Danish soldiers there. They held the colonial forces at bay for six months until the French sent a military force of 200 from Martinique that was able to subdue them. The uprising was one of the earliest and most effective in the Caribbean and sowed the seeds that would lead to emancipation in the Danish West Indies in 1848.
"This is the place where freedom was tasted so long ago," Emanuel said.
Turnbull said the rebellion was a beacon of hope, a spark of freedom, and a significant step in the struggle for liberty by enslaved people everywhere.
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