In the post-Hurricane Irma landscape, we welcome government’s plan to scale back the August Emancipation Festival while ramping up its emphasis on culture and history.
As the celebrations get under way in the coming days, we hope that everyone will take part.
In recent months, some residents have argued that Festival should be cancelled, contending that the public expense is not merited at a time when many community members still lack a comfortable living space.
They have a valid argument, but we believe that Festival is needed now.
First, like other successful events held since the storm, it will help the Virgin Islands along the road toward normalcy, giving residents a break from the recovery grind while showing the world that the territory can still show visitors a good time.
Festival also will provide a badly needed economic boost for many businesses.
Last but not least, the territory should not miss the opportunity during this crucial recovery period to reflect on the real reason for the Festival: On Aug. 1, 1834, slavery was legally abolished across the British empire.
Certainly, this is cause for celebration. But it is also time for sober reflection.
To that end, we are particularly pleased with this year’s plans. The schedule, for example, includes two new dramatic performances: one about a thwarted 1831 rebellion by enslaved Africans, and another based on the life of Perreen Georges, who in 1811 gave testimony that led to the execution of plantation owner Arthur Hodge for murdering a slave.
Such aspects of VI history are discussed so infrequently that we suspect relatively few residents know much about either of these two important stories.
This is hardly surprising, though, given how much of the territory’s history has been relegated to the shadows by the official colonial version the VI’s past. Indeed, “emancipation” itself came with a gaping caveat: After slaves were legally freed, the “apprenticeship” system that followed was effectively no different than slavery in many cases, according to historians.
This is the season to discuss such history with a view toward ensuring that it is much better understood by this community and by the outside world alike.
Such discussions also have a direct bearing on the way forward as the territory recovers from Irma and considers its eventual independence.
In the coming days, then, we wish everyone a joyous, inspiring and meaningful August Emancipation Festival.