On the island of St. Croix, David Hamilton Jackson was born in 1884. It had been more than three decades since slavery had been abolished on the island, yet life was still terrible for the residents, predominantly Blacks. Low salaries, a lack of healthcare, and limited educational options plagued black people. For the African-American community, Jackson would become a hero.
He was a labor activist and a supporter of the free press on St. Croix during the Danish West Indies period when the island was part of the Danish West Indies. He demanded better circumstances for the Black working class on the islands, in addition to founding the first free press journal.
He was always interested in neighborhood concerns as a child, and he never shied away from speaking his thoughts. He became a teacher, following in his parents’ footsteps, but was fired by the Danish school authorities after criticizing the Catholic church, according to history. Following that, he became a clerk, but lost that job as well after a disagreement with a governor.
Gradually, he rose to prominence as a working-class community leader and activist, lecturing throughout St. Croix and instructing the working class on how to demand better social and economic conditions for themselves while also criticizing conditions on the islands in his lectures and letters to newspapers. On April 15, 1915, he flew from St. Croix to Denmark, where he met with political officials, the press, and even the monarch, speaking on behalf of the Danish West Indian working class.
“An improvement of living conditions, including the development of smallholdings, freedom of expression, better housing conditions, an open legal system, a chance for further training in Denmark, and suffrage for all men over 25,” Jackson lectured at public gatherings. According to one story, he also ordered that the colony’s governor at the time, L.C. Herweg-Larsen, be replaced.
When he returned to St. Croix in September 1915, he obtained authorization to print The Herald, which became the island’s first free press publication. The four-page document was written and revised entirely by Jackson. The newspaper became a voice for the oppressed working class, as well as a platform for exposing corruption and opposing Danish colonial administration. Some people even went around the community reading it to those who couldn’t. The periodical was primarily intended to encourage workers to get actively involved in their own freedom.
“Jackson was sometimes called in contempt hearings for remarks he published in his editorials on the condition in the islands and of persons in positions of power,” according to one story.
Jackson became president of the first labor union on St. Croix, which he co-founded, thanks to his remarkable ability in organizing, educating, and public speaking. When plantation owners refused to raise wages during the sugar harvest in 1915-16, farmworkers on St. Croix, headed by Jackson and the union, went on strike, according to Virgin Islands History. Workers were awarded a raise from 10-20 cents per day to 35 cents per day as a result of the strike, which decreased the working from sunup to sundown to 9 hours. Dockworkers on St. Thomas also went on strike, and their working conditions improved as a result.
When Denmark considered selling the islands to the United States in 1917, Jackson was all for it after expressing his dissatisfaction with the Danish government’s lack of changes. Following the sale of the West Indies to the United States, Jackson returned to the United States to seek a law degree. Until his death in 1946, he was a judge in Christiansted and a politician on the islands.
On the islands, he is remembered as a hero today. He is known as the Black Moses by the African-American community for assisting his people in escaping slavery. Furthermore, November 1, the first day of Jackson’s paper’s publishing, is an official holiday in the Virgin Islands – David Hamilton Jackson Day.