(PRESS RELEASE)_U.S. Virgin Islands (June 22, 2023) – The U.S. Virgin Islands is closing in on the historic commemoration of its 175th Emancipation Day, which marks the abolition of slavery in the former Danish West Indies some 17 years prior to the “Juneteenth” declaration of freedom in 1865 on the mainland.
Honoring the U.S. Virgin Islands as the “birthplace of emancipation in the USA”, the 175th Emancipation Commemoration includes a series of educational programs and cultural events designed to inspire Virgin Islanders to renew and strengthen their commitment to honor their ancestors and forebears, such as John Gottlieb, known as “General Buddhoe”, and others who successfully organized a revolt on the morning of July 3, 1848, and demanded that enslaved persons be immediately declared free.
“I had to correct my nephew who thought that President Abraham Lincoln freed us. I said, ‘Listen, nobody freed us. We freed ourselves here in the Virgin Islands. The same spirit that drove General Buddhoe to emancipate his people is within us still,’” said Governor Albert Bryan Jr., who last year signed an executive order establishing the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee and appointed a nine-member panel to plan the celebrations.
Freedom Week, which begins on June 25, 2023, with interdenominational ecumenical services held across the Virgin Islands, includes a host of events in the Territory to foster community engagement and educate attendees about the Virgin Islands’ rich history and culture.
The week’s activities culminate on Monday, July 3, with the official ceremony to be held in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Local and national dignitaries, including representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior and Denmark, will be in attendance to participate in the ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m.
Nationally recognized health policy and equity advocate and social justice change agent, Roslyn Brock, who is the Chief Global Equity Officer for Abt Associates; Founder and CEO of Equity Partnership Strategies, LLC, a racial equity consulting firm; and Chairman Emeritus, National Board of Directors, NAACP, will deliver the keynote address.
“The 175th anniversary of emancipation in the Virgin Islands is an event of incredible historical significance not only for the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also for the United States of America. This is a unique opportunity for us to exhibit our extreme gratitude and great pride towards not only the ‘Keepers of the Flame’ whose contributions since 1848 demand community praise and recognition, but also our ‘Living Legends of Culture’, Virgin Islanders who have contributed immensely to the achievement, development, and enhancement of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Carol Burke, Chairwoman of the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee and former Senator of the USVI Legislature.
Events planned during Freedom Week include “Living Legends of Culture” receptions and art exhibits on all three islands of the Territory; Living Legends of Culture presentations and receptions on St. Thomas and St. Croix; art and music exhibitions and festivals; and the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church Commemorative Holy Mass on July 2 on St. Croix.
In addition to the official Emancipation Day ceremony on July 3, which will be simulcast, broadcast and live streamed, activities include the Fort to Fort Freedom Ride, the Fort to Fort Freedom Walk, the Fort to Fort Freedom Race, and the Emancipation Day Parade, which starts in “Freedom City”. There will also be a Tribute to the Ancestors with a Libation ceremony, Emancipation Luncheon and fireworks. The “Unshackled” Music Festival begins at 8:30 p.m. that evening in “Freedom City”.
Sponsors of the 175th Emancipation Commemoration include The Buccaneer Beach & Golf Resort, Cruzan Rum, Diageo USVI’s Captain Morgan, FirstBank, Royal Caribbean Group, Southland Gaming of the Virgin Islands, Tropical Shipping, and the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA). WTJX-FM and Viya are also providing support.
For more information and a detailed schedule of events, visit the official website of the Virgin Islands 175th Emancipation Commemoration at VI175.com.
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