By Chuck Pishko
D. Hamilton Jackson knew all too well the importance of a free press to founding and maintaining a democratic system.
The territory commemorated Jackson’s accomplishments on Liberty Day, November 1.
In 1914 Jackson wrote articles in the West End News describing and deploring the working conditions of plantation field workers who were making 10 to 25 cents per day and “being treated virtually as slaves.” (Melchior, November 4, 1972) For his candor, Jackson was charged with slander and fined.
Finding no relief here, Jackson went to Denmark to protest to officials and the King for permission to establish a free press, the right to free assembly and better wages.
lorence Lewisohn reports in her history “St. Croix Under Seven Flags,” Dukane Press, 1970, that the Avis newspaper, although privately owned, was government-controlled and published “the official news and the official line.”
In 1916 upon his return from Denmark, Jackson called a general strike on St. Croix. Over the next two months some 6,000 workers struck. While the town workers drifted back to work, the plantation workers stood fast. After weeks of negotiations, agreements were reached and the King and Parliament formally granted the workers the right of free press and free assembly, and employers granted wage increases to 35 cents for a nine-hour day.
Jackson and his supporters established The Herald, a newspaper for all the people, and established the St. Croix Labor Union. However, Jackson’s struggles for civic freedoms were not over.
The transfer of the islands to the United States in 1917 brought the autocratic wartime rule of the U.S. Navy, the continuation of the Danish municipal councils, and no U.S. citizenship. Again Jackson leapt into the fray, writing to the U.S. Congress and the President. He petitioned for a permanent form of civil government and full citizenship.
In 1926, he testified at Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. Jackson, along with Rothchild Francis and Caspar Holstein, prevailed and on February 25, 1927, limited citizenship was granted and the Naval Administration was ended in 1931. No constitution was adopted in 1927 or for that matter in any year since.
While the delegates to the fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention continue their quest for a Constitution, they might reflect today on how far Jackson has brought us down the road and the sacrifices he had to make. It would be fitting if Jackson shared Liberty Day 2008 with the current Constitutional Convention delegates and the new proposed Constitution.