Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s extensive research on African-American lives was revealing, and now his new series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” is reaching across to a mass audience in the diaspora, invoking us to tell our story.
After watching “The Age of Slavery” Episode 2 of the six part series, I felt a need to revisit the history of my Virgin Islands – then the Danish West Indies, on how freedom came here in 1848, including a summary on the resistance and rebellion to slavery by those in bondage.
This series inspired me to look to such authors as Isaac Dookhan, William Boyer, Harold Willocks, Arnold Highfied and George Tyson who wrote about slavery as the economy of the day in the Danish West Indies. They spoke about the common thread of all slaves – separation, isolation, mental anguish, being stripped of dignity, language and culture. These emotions, foreign in nature to men and women who were up-rooted from their homeland, caused the Africans to rebel against this institution of oppression.
In 1746 and again in 1759, African descendants in the Danish West Indies revolted to try to regain their freedom. Although the hunger and thirst for liberation never faded, it took careful planning to execute the Revolt of 1848 against their owners. “By any means necessary” a modern-day phrase reflected the mood of the time. Fires were set; bells tolled all over the islands and conch shells blew, transmitting messages from one estate to the next; refusing to work; and demolishing homes on the plantations were some of the actions taken by the slaves. This went on over a span of about two days throughout St. Croix. Large crowd gathered on the West end of the island demonstrating and demanding their freedom.
On July 3, 1848, Governor Peter von Scholten delivered a proclamation “all unfree in the Danish West Indian islands are of today free”. It was the strength, sacrifices and determination of the Africans, and not the generosity of the Danish Government, which could not be ignored as they brought freedom to their people and their descendents. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.