June 29, 2004 – Frederiksted is gearing up for the celebration of the 156th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Historical re-enactments, lectures, cultural arts and crafts, food, donkey races, fireworks and a massive display of historic photographs all are part of the plans.
The Office of the Governor, the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, St. Croix Rotary West, American Legion Post 85 and St. Croix Maafa are involved in presenting the events.
For decades, the West End town known as "Freedom City" has celebrated the July 3 anniversary of the emancipation of 1848, commemorating the day when Moses "General Buddhoe" Gottlieb led a revolt of more than 8,000 enslaved people to demand their freedom from the Danish government.
"Crucians come from a long lineage of revolutionaries," Oceana James, executive director of Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT), says. "It is now up to us not simply to remember their accomplishments every July 3, but to persistently and unreservedly live up to the ideals that they sacrificed their lives for."
During the second half of the 18th century, St. Croix enjoyed a period of enormous economic prosperity derived from sugar cultivation, rum production and the slave trade. The Danish West Indies was a central slave marketplace of the region, and despite the protestations of the Danish Crown, St. Croix's planters relied heavily on slave labor.
The Danish government declared slavery illegal in 1792 but assisted planters in acquiring slaves during a "transition" period; the slave trade was abolished in 1803. However, St. Croix's slaves would not achieve independence until July 3, 1848, when Governor-General Peter von Scholten, roused from his bed in the wee hours of the morning by the news of a slave insurrection, ordered the immediate emancipation of all "unfree."
After the emancipation of the slaves, the economy of St. Croix disintegrated, while trade in other commodities in the port of St. Thomas continued to grow. The population of St. Croix dwindled as residents sought greener pastures on the U.S. mainland. It was not until the 1940s that the economy slowly began to revive.
According to Rupert Ross, president of FEDA and member of St. Croix Rotary West, community participation plays a great part in presenting this year's emancipation celebration . "The fireworks show was made possible by donations from the St. Croix community," he said.
A special attraction of the four-day celebration is a 10-foot-high mural of archival photographs on display at Paul E. Joseph Stadium. These early Crucian images were compiled and made into a canvas by historian, fashion designer and art and antiques collector Wayne James for Rotary West. Floodlights will illuminate the collection for nighttime viewers. The frame that displays the collection was made possible by a donation from The West Indian Co. board, Ross said.
While emancipation celebration organizers encourage all residents to be a part of the observances, there is concern that other events continue to overshadow cultural and historical commemorations.
"I am afraid we are losing the true significance of what emancipation means to us in these Virgin Islands," award-winning local writer Winston Nugent said. "Every year when this time comes around, we somehow put it in the background and gravitate towards other, alternative celebrations which have no reference to our history."
Adrienne Williams, president of Generation Now!, called for island-wide participation. "We need to restore the meaning of 'proud Virgin Islander,'" she said. "We have a rich history, and we need to encourage our children to be a part of it. Parents should not let this weekend pass without taking their children to one of the emancipation programs."
Here is the updated schedule of activities:
Thursday, 5:30 a.m. Sunrise prayer and fellowship, Fort Christiansvaern bandstand, Christiansted; participants are asked to wear white.
Thursday, 6-9 p.m. An emancipation commemoration lecture and drama, St. Croix Education Complex, presented by St. Croix Maafa.
Saturday, 11 a.m. until Freedom march, emancipation re-enactment, art displays, music, dance, cultural games and food, Buddhoe Park, Frederiksted.
Saturday, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Sunset service on Dorsch Beach, presented by St. Croix Maafa..
Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Donkey races sponsored by American Legion Post 85, Paul E. Joseph Stadium.
Sunday Moonlight/fireworks excursion presented by Rotary West.
Sunday, 5 p.m. The Big Band, Jamesie and the All Stars, Buddhoe Park.
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. Fireworks display, Frederiksted waterfront.
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