The call of the conch shell beckoned residents and tourists alike to Frank Powell Sr. Park in Cruz Bay on the morning of Emancipation Day, Monday, July 3, in celebration of the 158th anniversary of the day Crucian slaves demanded freedom for all slaves under the Danish Crown.
Pastor Ray Joseph led the crowd in prayer before St. Johnian Sonia Sprauve, a former Celebration Food Fair honoree, sang moving renditions of the U.S. National Anthem and the Virgin Islands March.
Echo People Set Mood
The Echo People, a local group of West African- and Caribbean-style drummers and singers, kicked the program off with a powerful performance of a traditional African spiritual.
Echo People are ancestral people, band member Babajuba Oba told the crowd. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We play this music in tribute and in remembrance of those who came before us.
After Echo People set a palpable mood in the park, retired educator Gilbert Sprauve led a group of about 40 residents in an interactive skit based on what might have happened on St. Croix on July 3, 1848.
I want to make it clear that this is a skit about how things could have happened on this day in 1848 at the fort in Frederiksted, said Sprauve, who added that history was often re-interpreted and usually became his story.
Sprauve handed out a number of scripts to the crowd who were an integral part of the skit, and helped transform the historical significance of the day into a living remembrance of V.I. freedom fighters.
A number of residents participated in the skit including Ray Joseph as the Frederiksted Fort commander; John Fuller as his sentinel; University of the Virgin Islands professor Gene Em-manuel as freedom activist John Gottliff, better known as General Buddoe; Masserae Sprauve Webster as freedom activist Matilda; and Sprauve himself as Governor-General Peter von Scholten.
Audience members played the parts of slaves chanting freedom, freedom, as Matilda and Buddoe argued with the fort commander.
The short but powerful skit concluded with Gov. von Scholten proclaiming, all are free in the Danish West Indies, to the sound of drums and a conch shell reverberating throughout the park.
Danish West Indies
July 3, 1848
Peter Carl Frederik v. Scholten
1. All unfree in the Danish Westindia Islands are from today emancipated. 2. The Estate Negroes retain for three months from the date the use of the houses and provisiongrounds, of which they have hitherto been possessed.
3. Labor is in the future to be paid for by agreement, but allowance is to cease.
4. The maintenance of old and infirm, who are not able to work, is until further determination to be furnished by the late owners.