Annual Fort-to-Fort walk to begin Emancipation Day ceremonies

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ST. CROIX - A full slate of activities - starting at 5 a.m. and continuing into the night - is scheduled for Tuesday to mark one of the most pivotal moments in Virgin Islands history.

Emancipation Day is the holiday that commemorates the day in 1848 when enslaved Africans on St. Croix's West End rose up, demanded their freedom and won it, along with freedom for all slaves in the territory.

On July 3, 1848, freed slave and skilled craftsman Moses Gottlieb, who was also known as "General Buddhoe," led the uprising that won freedom for all slaves in the territory.

Buddhoe and his comrade Martin King had organized slaves on St. Croix's West End plantations to march on the town of Frederiksted.

Led by Buddhoe, thousands of slaves gathered at Fort Frederik early on the morning of July 3. They delivered an ultimatum, demanding their freedom by noon or they would burn the town down.

The military sent word of the situation to Gov. Gen. Peter von Scholten, who was in Christiansted. Von Scholten missed the deadline and the crowd in Frederiksted tore down the whipping post and threw it out to sea, and ransacked the judges' and police offices.

Buddhoe extended the deadline and von Scholten arrived in Frederiksted later that afternoon.

When he saw the rebellion, von Scholten declared all the slaves in the Danish West Indies free.

The activities to mark the day on Tuesday include the Emancipation Day Fort to Fort Walk to Freedom, sponsored by Sen. Terrence Nelson. Nelson started the walk years ago, when he was president of Our Virgin Islands Labor Union.

The 15.3-mile walk begins at 5 a.m. Tuesday at Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted.

"We always try to begin promptly at 5," Nelson said. "At the start we say a prayer and shake the chain on the door of the fort." Participants will make their way across the island and down Queen Mary Highway, to Fort Frederik by Buddhoe Park.

Nelson said the walk usually takes about five and a half to six hours, including the stops. A support vehicle follows, for those who need a rest.

Hundreds of people now make the walk every year, he said, noting that "people join in along the way."

Refreshments are available.

Nelson encouraged people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds to join in.

"We all have things that are oppressing us from our full potential," he said. "This can be a symbolic way to break from the chains of our challenges, whatever they are."

Then at 5 p.m. in Buddhoe Park, the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Emancipation Commemoration Committee of the History, Culture and Tradition Foundation will begin its Emancipation Commemoration Program.

The committee is "focusing on the young people this year," said Mary Moohead, president of the foundation.

"We're trying to get young people 35 and under interested," she said.

Mistress of ceremonies for the evening will be Sheniqua Robinson, who was Miss Virgin Islands 2010 and Miss St. Croix 2008, Moorhead said.

A 2012 Central High graduate, Isaac Torres, will also speak at the event about his concept of emancipation, Moorhead said.

And then keynote speaker, historian and community activist Mario Moorhead will give a presentation on the history of Emancipation Day.

Afterward, participants can kick up their heels at a big street quadrille dance scheduled from 7:30 p.m. to midnight in Custom House Square.

Moorhead encouraged those who come to the commemoration program to bring folding chairs so they'll be sure to have a place to sit in the park.

St. Patrick's Alumni will also be doing their Emancipation Day Food Sale, she said.

The Emancipation Day Donkey Races, hosted by The Gentlemen of Jones, have been scheduled for July 15 at the Paul E. Joseph baseball field.

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