The U.S. Virgin Islands commemorated the 175th anniversary of slavery’s abolition in a major way with a week-long series of events. The events culminated on July 3, which marked the day in 1848 when thousands of people in the US territory, once ruled by Denmark, were emancipated from enslavement.
Over 8,000 enslaved people, led by John Moses Gottlieb known as Buddhoe, revolted on that day in 1848, forcing the Governor General of the then Danish West Indies to end the practice of chattel slavery and deliver the 1848 Emancipation Proclamation with immediate effect.
In celebration of this historic milestone, The USVI Emancipation Commemoration featured a series of events and programs from June 25-July 3 to honor the heritage of the Virgin Islands and celebrate the hard-won freedom of its people. Over several days, the celebrations on Saint Croix, St. Thomas, and St John included a music festival, parade, panel discussions, and dance performances culminating with a symbolic Freedom Walk from Fort Christian to Fort Frederik.
The week-long celebrations featured a lineup of esteemed dignitaries and guests including U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr., Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett, who is the U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress, Christina Markus Lassen, Denmark’s Ambassador to the United States and Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, Roslyn M. Brock who delivered the keynote address.
“We on the U.S. mainland share in the struggle of African peoples worldwide and are reminded of the resilience and strength of those throughout the Virgin Islands who fought for freedom not only for themselves but also for all people who suffer the injustices of slavery. We must renew our commitment to honor their legacy and continue the work of achieving true freedom for all,” Brock said in a statement shared with ESSENCE.
The abolition of slavery in the U.S. Virgin Islands took place 17 years before the end of slavery on the mainland in June of 1865 known as Juneteenth. Despite being long celebrated in the African American community, Juneteenth only became a federal holiday in 2021.
“Together, we will pay tribute to the past, embrace the present, and celebrate our glorious future because courage will not skip this generation,” Brock added.
“Remembering our past, celebrating our future’ is not simply a theme to guide our activities related to this historic event, it’s a solemn charge that demands our commitment to not only remember our forebears and their struggles but also to ensure that our actions today continue to build on the foundation they laid,” she said.
“We honor and commemorate the sacredness of the 175th Anniversary of our Emancipation from chattel slavery. We are the heroes of our own story. It is in our blood to rise,” said Congresswoman Plaskett.
Plaskett introduced H. Res. 368 in the House of Representatives in May to encourage all Americans to recognize the historical significance of Emancipation Day in the US Virgin Islands and the rest of the nation.
“I introduced the 175th Emancipation Day Resolution to encourage all Americans to recognize the historical significance of the emancipation of enslaved peoples of the Danish West Indies. The 175th Emancipation Day, July 3, 2023, provides an opportunity to acknowledge the enormous strength and resilience of enslaved peoples in the Virgin Islands, as well as the cultural, economic, and social contributions of Virgin Islanders to the United States.”
“This legislation provides an opportunity to reflect on the blessing of our present freedoms and serves as a reminder of the continued struggles for equity and justice, both in the territory and globally,” she added.
Check out highlights from this momentous week-long celebration across the U.S. Virgin Islands.