St. Croix monument dedicated in honor of unknown enslaved ancestors


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ST. CROIX - It was about dedicating ground to remembrance and honoring enslaved ancestors.

In a quiet little pocket of William's Delight as the day waned on Thursday and the sun set, a group gathered on the grounds of the School of the Good Shepherd for a dedication ceremony for "The Graveyard of Time," a monument in honor of the unknown enslaved persons of the Danish West Indies.

"We're honoring our unknown enslaved ancestors," said George Franklin, a historian who is principal of the school.

Schoolchildren have transformed the ruin of a stone wall that sits in the middle of a field on the school grounds into a monument for enslaved ancestors, with a small open-air "museum" designed to help them tell the story of those who were enslaved here.

Franklin got the idea for the monument when he heard someone talking on the radio about the fact that there is a monument to unknown soldiers, but there was not any monument in the territory to the thousands of unknown people who were brought here against their will and forced into slavery.

"I think there should be something," Franklin said. "That put a spark inside me. For all the years our ancestors have been here, they haven't been honored."

The idea for the memorial and "Zamani" celebration was born.

According to information at the dedication ceremony Thursday, Zamani are spirits not known to anyone currently alive. Zamani also means "the graveyard of time," Franklin said.

Franklin's daughter, 10-year-old Candace Wade-Franklin, guided those who came for the dedication ceremony through the small, fenced, open-air museum comprising the memorial, first urging anyone who enters to ring one of the bells posted at the entrance three times for freedom.

Within the tiny space, props and pictures and items to demonstrate the history of enslaved people on the island - how they got here, how they lived, and how they died - are placed strategically. Candace provided the narration, acting as a docent.

Franklin said the memorial is set up in a way that schoolchildren can understand, and that the children of the School of the Good Shepherd will become docents for the little memorial, able to guide visitors through the space. Candace guided several groups through the memorial before the ceremony began.

"We are honoring the people today who gave their blood, their sweat, their tears," Franklin said as the dedication ceremony started.

He said that the truth has to be told.

"We have to, as our own people, tell our story," he said, adding that it would be done in a spirit of love. That story, he said, is the basis of our culture.

"It's about what happened here on this soil," he said. "This is real culture."

He poured libation as an offering to the spirits of those ancestors, calling out to all of them.

Following the libation ceremony, there was a candlelight procession and then a blessing of the "Graveyard of Time."

Franklin then poured libations to the present and the future, for keeping the legacy and the truth alive.

The school intends to offer tours of the small memorial. For more information, call Franklin at 277-9720.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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