ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee on Culture, Youth, Aging, Sports, and Parks led by Senator Angel L. Bolques Jr. convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The Committee received testimony and updates regarding the progress and challenges associated with the upcoming 175th Anniversary of the Emancipation Celebration. In addition, the committee received information from representatives of the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee, local government agencies, committees, and commissions with jurisdiction and roles over the 175th Emancipation Celebration, and other organizations and stakeholders relevant to this historic event.
Upon the calling of the meeting into order, the conch shell was blown by Adeaja Longville, a student from St. Croix. The blowing of the conch shell has long been regarded as a cultural call to action.
Carol M. Burke, Chairwoman of the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee, delivered testimony. As per Burke’s testimony, she stated that she was grateful for being entrusted with this leadership role. The Emancipation Commission initially appeared at the recent Agricultural Fair in St. Croix. Burke stated that she and the rest of the Committee were delighted to receive fair goers who included young inquisitive minds seeking information, and those who embraced the commemoration of freedom, especially those from the sister islands of St. Thomas, St. John, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the wider Caribbean. Burke voiced how grateful she was to the other eight members of the Committee for their insightfulness and diligence in unleashing their inventive minds and energies to ensure that the celebration would be successful. Burke reminded the body that the Committee has existed without office space and resources, supporting staff, and all that is needed to facilitate the resources. Burke reminded the body that the Committee was limited regarding how the allotted $1 Million could be utilized, stating that according to executive order No. 522-2022, “the committee will plan and implement events, programs, and the official commemoration over the course of the 175th anniversary celebration year of 2023.”
Burke further mentioned that there would be an unveiling of a new Emancipation Commemorative License Plate, launching the new Emancipation Commemoration Committee website, as well as launching a final section of the “Keepers of the Flame.” The website, vi175.com is intended to be the hub for all events for the commemoration in 2023. The website will feature listings for the many events taking place in 2023, historical information dating back to 1848 to the present day, and a shareable news engine to stay up to date on the emancipation committee activities and any updates on the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Emancipation.
Ian Turnbull, the Director of the Division of Festivals, delivered testimony on behalf of the Department of Tourism. In testimony delivered by Turnbull, it was stated that one of the most commemorative days in the history of the USVI is Emancipation Day on July 3rd. Almost 175 years ago, an organized slave revolt on the island of St. Croix led to the abolition of slavery, in what was then the Danish West Indies. Turnbull reminded the body that when we come together to celebrate the important of Emancipation Day, we must remind our children, the community, and the world that Virgin Islands liberated themselves from slave owners 15 years before the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in 1863, and 17 years before the American Civil war ended in 1865. The commemoration has been highlighted as a way to preserve and honor Virgin Islands Culture as we share our story, music, dance, arts, crafts, and food with each other and travelers.
While not having formal testimony, Jean-Pierre Oriol, the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, mentioned that the territory’s forts were in varying states of disrepair. Oriol stated that the paint needed to maintain them costs at least $400 for two gallons.
Frandelle Gerard, the Executive Director of the Crucian Heritage, and Nature Tourism, delivered testimony. Gerard stated that she has had the opportunity to experience the events that honor her ancestors that commemorate the spirit of the emancipation revolt. CHANT has partnered with several community organizations that have kept the commemorations of emancipation alive, such as History, Tradition and Culture, United Caribbean Association (UCA), Ten Sleepless Knights, and their members to support and expand the activities around Emancipation Day. Gerard stated that it is important that we honor the spirit of resistance of all who gathered in the town of Frederiksted on the morning of July 3, 1848 and all those who gathered at the entrance of Christiansted which later laid the foundation to continue organizing and working towards self-determination.
Senator Bolques Jr. stated that it was important for us to see the value in our culture to inspire others to do the same. He stated that our cultural diversity had made the canvas of the Virgin Islands a vibrant place, much like our madras. Senator Bolques Jr also stated that through culture, we are governed by longstanding customs, which are part of the building blocks of the pillars of any society, and that if these pillars are not properly followed, our culture will fall apart and dwindle through time.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Angel L. Bolques Jr. Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carriόn, Diane T. Capehart, Alma Francis Heyliger, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marise C. James, Javan E. James Sr, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton E. Potter.