Crucians and visitors from the rest of the U.S. Virgin Island gathered under cloudy skies Friday at Grove Place to honor native son David Hamilton Jackson, founding father of the labor movement on St. Croix, with a program that included speeches, musical performances and messages of hope.
The David Hamilton Jackson Day celebration was organized by the Grove Place Action Committee.
Remarks by Sen. Novelle Francis and Delegate Stacey Plaskett reminded everyone of Jackson’s legacy of sacrifice and determination. Raymond Williams, president of the Grove Place Action Committee shared his excitement for the annual event.
“Our organization is proud and honored to continue this tradition each year. We put our hearts and soul into making this an event enjoyable for everyone, come rain or shine,” Williams said.
The program also included the introduction of the contestants in the 2019 Crucian Christmas Festival Prince and Princess contests and the Miss St. Croix contest, greeting the community and inviting everyone to come out and enjoy the festival events throughout the holiday season.
Also known as Liberty Day and Bull and Bread Day, D. Hamilton Jackson Day marked the 103rd anniversary of the establishment of the free press on St. Croix and the first printing of the The Herald, the first newspaper to address the unfair labor practices, poor housing and other social ills plaguing Virgin Islanders in the early 20th century.
According to USVI history, Jackson was an educator, a lawyer, a minister, an editor and a labor leader. Born on Sept. 28, 1884, on St. Croix, Jackson attended the East Hill School where his parents, Eliza Hamilton McIntosh and Wilford Jackson, were teachers. In 1910 he was accepted to Howard University, where he earned a law degree. In 1913, Jackson attended the Moravian College in Philadelphia, thereby fulfilling a goal he expressed at the age of seven, to become a minister in the Moravian Church. Jackson returned home to St. Croix where he advocated and worked for the freedom of the working class. In 1915, with the help of Ralph Bough, Jackson organized the St. Croix Labor Union, the first of its kind on St. Croix, and served as the first president.
At the turn of the 20th century, the people of the Virgin Islands and St. Croix in particular had seen little improvement in their lives. Unfair wages and labor practices, poor housing and the lack of free expression made life miserable. The Danish government had strict censorship of all press, allowing only government-owned publications, and the people were confined to jobs with a small group of landowners under oppressive conditions.
In April 1915 Jackson traveled to Denmark where he met with the minister of finance, to discuss the strict labor laws on St. Croix. Jackson also advocated for the right of land ownership, better housing, freedom of expression, voting rights for men 25 years of age and older. While in Denmark he wrote a letter to and was granted an audience with King Christian X.
During Jackson’s three months in Denmark he spoke at several outdoor meetings that attracted a large audience. It was the first time a black man had ever addressed the public in the history of Denmark. He was also well received by the Danish press.
Jackson’s trip to Denmark resulted in permission to publish a newspaper, a small but important victory. The other issues Hamilton so passionately advocated for – the labor laws, housing conditions and other social ills – were answered with empty words.
Before returning to St. Croix, Jackson traveled to New York, where he was warmly received by fellow Crucian and boyhood friend, Hubert Harrison – often referred to as the father of Harlem Radicalism – and other Virgin Islanders who had emigrated to New York City. They assisted him in collecting most of the funds he needed to purchase a printing press.
In September 1915, Hamilton returned home to a hero’s welcome with a printing press and even more conviction to fight for the rights of Crucian people and Virgin Islanders in general. With the assistance of Ralph Bough and Ralph de Chabert, Jackson published the first edition of The Herald, on Nov. 1, 1915. It was the first free publication on St. Croix. The newspaper became a voice of the people, informing and educating the working class on St. Croix and providing general information including notices, community events, health and literature.
Despite the optimism that prevailed upon Jackson’s return from Denmark, conditions on St. Croix only worsened. Dubbed a troublemaker by planters and government officials, and the Black Moses by the people of St. Croix, Jackson led labor protests and strikes demanding sweeping social and economic reforms. By 2017, completely disillusioned with the Danish government he became one of the most vocal supporters of the transfer of the Virgin Islands to the United States of America in 1917.
In a spirited address Acting Governor, Tregenza Roach, challenged the audience to continue the unfinished business of D. Hamilton Jackson.
“This is a very important moment in the history of the Virgin Islands. Let us challenge ourselves, for the good of our children, for the good of our islands. “
In keeping with the tradition of Jackson’s legacy of community service, retired schoolteacher of 32 years, Austin Williams, and his wife Jewel coordinate the Grove Place for Life after school youth program.
“My wife and I have a love and a hunger for the youth in our community. After I retired in 2011, I decided to dedicate my time to helping to save our youth. We stress the importance of having respect for yourself and for others. Throughout the school year and during the summer break, we host workshops on black history, dance, and sports activities to keep our sons and daughters engaged and hopefully, out of trouble.”
The Grove Place Dancers performed an African dance choreographed by Ife Massey and accompanied by drummers Olu Massey, Ras Joe Gell and Jahsai Rodriguez (son and grandson of Ife and Olu Massey, respectively.)
Toward the end of Friday’s program, the intermittent rain turned into a steady downpour. And in true Virgin Island form, umbrellas blossomed throughout the audience as the crowd made their way to the food station for bull and bread and potato stuffing.