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V.I. celebrates 164 years of freedom

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St. Croix Independence Celebration

Published: July 4, 2012

ST. CROIX - As the sun began to peep from behind partly cloudy skies at dawn on Tuesday, dozens of people began the trek from Christiansted to Frederiksted for the annual Emancipation Fort-to-Fort Walk that was the beginning of a host of activities for the day.

Emancipation Day is the holiday that commemorates the day 164 years ago when enslaved Africans on St. Croix's West End rose up, demanded their freedom and won it, along with freedom for all slaves in the territory.

On July 3, 1848, freed slave and skilled craftsman Moses Gottlieb, who was also known as "General Buddhoe," led the uprising that won freedom for all slaves in the territory.

Buddhoe and his comrade, Admiral Martin King, organized slaves on West End plantations to march on the town of Frederiksted.

Led by Buddhoe, thousands of slaves gathered at Fort Frederick early on the morning of July 3 and delivered an ultimatum, demanding their freedom by noon or they would burn the town down.

The military sent word of the situation to Gov. Gen. Peter von Scholten, who was in Christiansted. Von Scholten missed the deadline and the crowd in Frederiksted tore down the whipping post and threw it out to sea and ransacked the judges' and police offices.

Buddhoe extended the deadline to 3 p.m. and von Scholten arrived in Frederiksted for that deadline. When he saw the escalating rebellion, he declared all the slaves in the Danish West Indies free.

Sen. Terrence Nelson started the Fort-to-Fort March 11 years ago, and it has grown a number of dedicated supporters. The 15.3-mile walk began at Fort Christiansvaern and traveled down Queen Mary Highway to Fort Frederick.

Allen Brewley, who has been participating in the walk since 2009, said he always is inspired by the fearlessness of his ancestors and their bravery to fight for the freedom they believed in.

"They took a stand for us who are coming so many years behind," he said. "They believed in freedom, and they stood up for it."

With about 200 residents participating, Brewley said the walk is a time for him to reflect on their sacrifices, and it inspires him to do more for the next generation. His young children met him along the route at Campo Rico and continued the walk to Frederiksted.

Raymond Hector, 73, has been making the trek to Frederiksted since the walk's inception. Raymond said he has seen a change in the island from growing up and working in the Sugar Factories with his father, and he embraces the culture and the spirit of change that so many take for granted.

"This is a significant day for us in our history, and without the courage of those before us, our life could have been very different," he said and encouraged residents, specifically the youth to embrace the culture and the history of the islands.

Following the walk, many families enjoyed the day on Frederiksted beaches and parks. Adelbert Bryan and about 20 members of his family spent the afternoon jumping from the Frederiksted Pier, something Bryan said has become a tradition for them.

"We enjoy the freedom that was won for us and the liberties that we have today," he said. "This is our land, and these are our waters, and we are free to enjoy them."

The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Emancipation Commemoration Committee of the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation held its Emancipation Commemoration Program in Buddhoe Park and featured speeches by historian Mario Moorhead and Central High School graduate Isaac Torres.

Torres said residents enjoy the freedom of having no physical chains, but many still are oppressed and remain in a state of mental slavery.

"So many people lack the ability to think for themselves and progress, but until they can achieve that mental emancipation they are not really free," he said.

Illiteracy is the biggest obstacle, and young people need to begin opening books and seeking out knowledge on their own, he said.

Moorhead's presentation about the history of Emancipation Day has become a staple of the celebration.

Directly following Moorhead's presentation, conch shell blowers could be heard blowing at a fast and steady pace. The intense pace represents the spirit of the ancestors' energy and aggression as they made their demands, according to Ras Lamumba Corriette.

Following the ceremony, a grand quadrille dance took place in the streets and lasted into the night to wrap up the celebration.