Nov. 2, 2005 — Protests joined local history and politics at the celebration honoring David Hamilton Jackson Tuesday in Estate Grove Place.
The celebration took place in a gazebo in the center of a grassy area. Locals say the area has been used to share information with residents for hundreds of years.
Members of the St. Croix chapter of the United Steel Workers of America came prepared to protest and delayed a speech by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for several minutes. The members say the government has been unfair to them. (See "Union to Protest Government During Celebration of Labor Leader".)
Other residents just came out to view the proceedings, hear cultural music and buy a bowl of kalaloo or a plate of fried fish. Several brightly colored tents ringed the area offering an array of native food, drinks and desserts. Children played on the swing set behind the gazebo. Family groups kept one eye on the children while exchanging the latest news. Music blared from speakers set up in a corner of the park. In front of the gazebo, a bronze statue of David Hamilton Jackson stood silently observing the day's events.
Politicians were out in full force, including gubernatorial hopefuls, sitting senators and several senate hopefuls. A group of about 20 people wore shirts promoting a gubernatorial candidate. From the amount of senators and other political hopefuls in the crowd it seemed that electioneering had already begun. Senators and other political hopefuls effortlessly weaved their way through the crowd shaking hands.
Traditionally, the holiday draws record number crowds in even-numbered years when it is celebrated the day before general elections. Politicians and their supporters take advantage of the crowds to do some "last lap" politicking.
Grove place resident Ophelia Williams Jackson was the first speaker on the program, followed by Grove Place Action Committee President Raymond Williams. The Grove Place Action committee organizes the event every year. The speakers gave the history of the event and reminded residents that the principals that D. Hamilton Jackson stood for are still relevant today.
One resident who came out to celebrate the occasion was Walter Hamilton Thomas. Thomas, dapperly dressed in a dark green suit and matching tie, stood listening attentively to the proceedings.
"My parents were involved in the union with Jackson," he said. Thomas said he was born in 1915, when the Danish government still ruled the islands. Thomas said he remembers hearing Jackson speak at union meetings in Grove Place. "I appreciate what he did for the poor people," Thomas said. "They were hurting."
Tourism Commissioner Pam Richards addressed the crowd, informing them that the Caribbean is also celebrating Caribbean Tourism Day. Richards urged the government to become more aware of the tourism initiatives of other Caribbean countries. She said Caribbean countries will address tourism strategies as a group to have more influence on the world tourism market. The 28th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference convened on St. Thomas the weekend of Oct. 22.
Senate President Lorraine Berry also talked about the history of the day and how V.I. residents can apply Jackson's principals to today's lifestyle.
"In order to survive and prosper, all we learn and all we do, we owe it to the struggles of the past," Berry said. Berry also said that freedom of the press was one of Jackson's "greatest accomplishments."
Meanwhile, the union members were waiting patiently for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to take his turn at the podium.
"We are waiting for the governor," Maude Cornelius said. "We want him to stop the bull and give us the bread." Cornelius is the secretary for the St. Croix Chapter of the United Steel Workers of America, which represents government supervisors.
As soon as the governor stood to speak the protesters shifted into high gear. They lifted their placards high and they marched around in a circle in front of the bandstand shouting slogans. "Turnbull is unfair! The supervisors want respect! We have been waiting for three years!"
The governor stood silently at the podium for several minutes watching the scene and then returned to his seat. St. Croix Deputy Chief of Police Herminio Velazquez walked over to one protester and asked her to stop honking a horn she was using to add to the noise of the protestors. By that time the group was singing "We Shall Overcome." Finally, Williams asked the protesters to allow the governor to speak. The protesters quieted down and retreated to the shade of a nearby tree.
Gov. Turnbull stepped up to the microphone and said "Yes, we shall overcome some day."
Turnbull's address centered on what Jackson's impressions would be of the Virgin Islands today. "Would he be pleased?" Turnbull asked. Turnbull said Jackson would not be pleased about the crime situation, the condition of the schools, health care and public facilities. On the positive side, Turnbull said Jackson would be pleased to know that the islands are a place where people from all over the Caribbean are welcome.
Following Turnbull's address, the protesters marched and sang for a while longer. "Its a first step," said USW President Abdul R. Ali.
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