Two Years and Two Storms Later, Danes and Virgin Islanders Recall Transfer Day

Dignitaries take the dais for Transfer Day observance on St Thomas.
Dignitaries take the dais for Transfer Day observance on St Thomas.

Gov. Albert Bryan and a host of dignitaries joined with the Danish Consul General to observe the 102nd Virgin Islands Transfer Day. The day is used to remember events in 1917 when the former Danish colony became a possession of the United States.

The ravages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 and the lingering recovery of March 2018 curtailed the formalities of a Centennial celebration and the annual Transfer Day ceremony. Formal observances on Sunday took place on the grounds of the Legislature on St. Thomas.

The assembled crowd was modest compared to the hundreds of people who filled the grounds of the Senate building, across from Fort Christian, two years ago for the 100th observance. Bryan said more effort is needed to keep the tradition from slipping away.

Several of those who spoke mentioned the continuing recovery from the back-to-back catastrophic storms. Senate President Kenneth Gittens thanked Danish Ambassador and Consul General Anne Dorte Rigglesen for the efforts undertaken by the Danish Emergency Management Agency to lend a hand.

Riggleson credited Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett for turning to her country for disaster assistance.

“It was not my idea. It was not the idea of the prime minister. It was the idea of Delegate Plaskett,” Riggleson said. “Denmark was proud to lend a helping hand in that time of recovery.”

She also addressed the complex relationship between the former colonizers and the people who lived under their rule in the Eastern Caribbean.

In his remarks Gittens spoke of life – and recovery – in the Virgin Islands under the U.S. flag.

“While we acknowledge the assistance we received wasn’t perfect and that our recovery is ongoing, most Virgin Islanders remain extremely grateful for the resources our status as a United States territory have afforded us,” he said.

But when it was her turn to speak, Plaskett put status front and center. By 2023 – the territory’s 175th anniversary since Emancipation – a new discussion on self-determination must take place, she said. Plaskett called for a resolution to mount an education drive, informing Virgin Islanders about the issues related to their status as U.S. citizens.

A favorable outcome from those efforts, she said, would lead to a vote about future status options.

“As to what Virgin Islanders wish their status and relationship to be. So that I or whomever is the member of Congress of these islands at that time – 2023 – would press for the will of the people of these islands.”

Plaskett urged the territory to make Transfer Day a focus day in schools, in government, in public squares and other places – along with D. Hamilton Jackson Day, on “who we are, what we have contributed to other nations. And what we can make of ourselves.”

Mistress of ceremonies Pam Richards raised the matter of an important artifact in the Transfer Day story. The flagpole that stood on the then-Danish barracks ground where the Dannenborg was lowered and the Stars and Stripes were raised lay broken on the ground behind the ceremonial tent, a casualty of the hurricanes.

Riggleson joined Richards in calling for a joint effort to restore the flagpole so that in future Transfer Days, the reenactment of the flag ceremony can resume.