A small island can serve as a remarkable microcosm for driving social change and can also provide an optimal environment for cultivating bold community leaders. David Hamilton Jackson was an exemplar of such a leader. Born in 1884 and raised on the island of St. Croix, Jackson received his initial training as an educator. Jackson was determined to bring about significant improvement in the lives of the people in his community. In pursuit of this goal, he fearlessly voiced his views, even to the extent of being dismissed from his teaching post for his criticism of the Catholic church. 

His legacy as a trailblazer began to take shape in 1913 when he co-founded the first trade union in the West Indies, challenging the brutal plantation economy that persisted even after slavery was abolished in 1848. The first general strike in the Danish colony in the West Indies lasted from 24 January to 26 February 1916. Jackson and his colleagues stood up to plantation owners who refused to raise wages during the sugar harvest of 1915-16, leading to a successful strike that resulted in a reduction in the workday from sunup to sundown to nine hours, and an increase in wages from 10-20 cents to 35 cents per day. This landmark accomplishment inspired dock workers on St. Thomas to demand better working conditions and wage increases. 

In 1915 Jackson travelled to Denmark and successfully advocated for the repeal of a 1779 ordinance which blocked the publication of non-government subsidized newspapers. He then returned to St. Croix and in November of that year started “The Herald.” The Herald’s subtitle was “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” and in the first issue Jackson vowed that the Herald would be “a paper for the people… …that would promote and defend the darker race from attacks from the papers, journals, and journalists opposed to their progress toward their heritage.”  

In celebration of the first edition of the Herald, a bull was slaughtered, and beef and bread were served to the community in Grove Place, St. Croix, where copies of the Herald were posted. The tradition of serving bull and bread on November 1st to celebrate “Bull and Bread Day” also known as “Liberty Day” carries on today. 

Following the transfer of the territory to American control in 1917, he lobbied for US citizenship for Virgin Islanders. Jackson spoke frankly about the conditions for laborers under Danish rule and he hoped for better treatment under the United States. He went on to study law at Howard University in the United States, returning to St. Croix to continue to serve his community as an attorney, a council member, and a judge before his death in 1946. 

Image of St. Croix Avis, June 1st, 1946. Front page articles eulogizing David Hamilton Jackson for his service to his community. Jackson was known as a Crucian Civil Rights Movement Leader, a Labor Movement Organizer, an Educator, a Newspaper Editor, a Lawyer, a Judge, and a Councilman.

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