July 3, 2008 — With a few symbolic toots on a conch shell, St. John resident Mano Boyd set the tone for Thursday's Emancipation Day observance on St. John.
"Don't think only of July 4th. July 3rd has lots of significance," master of ceremonies Alecia M. Wells said to a small crowd gathered in Cruz Bay Park.
St. John will celebrate Independence Day Friday with a parade, but Thursday was the day to remember July 3, 1848, when St. Croix slaves demanded their freedom from the Danish government.
"It's very important to me as an African-American. It's more significant than Independence Day because of the freeing of the slaves," St. Thomas resident Josandra James said, explaining why she made the trip across Pillsbury Sound.
The program featured a performance by the Love City Leapers jump rope team, skits by Gilbert Sprauve and friends and Clarence Cuthbertson as well as music by several groups.
"Oh freedom," sang Faye Fredericks and Ruth Frett as some in the crowd sang and clapped.
Sprauve told a tale about the July 3, 1848 revolt on St. Croix.
"It was our day of glory," he said.
Cuthbertson performed his monologue "Backtime," a tale about Antiguan Papa John Harris. He lived to be 105.
The narrative takes listeners from Harris' life as a child through adulthood and the fathering of 35 children.
"I worked hard and provided for all my children," he said.
While Friday's program focused on emancipation, the park was busy with vendors selling wares. Most had been there all week.
"I've done 50 percent more business than last year," St. Thomas resident Shirley Stendahl-McLeod said. She had limited edition art prints for sale.
Stendahl-McLeod credited the boost in sales to more people on St. John. She suggested that instead of going to Europe — very expensive for Americans with the unfavorable exchange rate between the dollar and the euro — people are coming instead to the Virgin Islands.
Another vendor from St. Thomas, Nceeba Rabsatt, with a table filled with incense, soaps, scrubs and jewelry, had a different story. "This is the worst year," she said.
Rabsatt blamed the problem on the lack of music in the park throughout the week.
Even a vendor from St. Croix made the trip. Jerome Davis had his table filled with bottled peppers, guavaberry wine, stewed mango, tamarind and other local delights.
People got to sample red grout, dumb bread, banana bread, and tamarind juice at St. John resident Laurel Hewitt-Sewer's table.
"I want to introduce people to traditional foods," she said.
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