Today, July 3rd is Emancipation Day a Holiday throughout the US Virgin Islands formerly the Danish West Indies. Emancipation Day commemorates the day in 1848 when enslaved Africans on St. Croix demanded their freedom and won their freedom, and for all slaves throughout the territory.
This day is full of activities beginning with the annual 5am Freedom walk of about 15 miles commemorating the day the slaves walked to demand their freedom.
Quadrille dancing is a cultural part of the celebration, the official dance of the US Virgin Islands, presentations from various schools, historians as well as a reading of the Proclamation of Emancipation.
This year marks the 166th anniversary of the proclamation.
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.