Last week’s article featured a recent petition to change the name of Philispburg to Great Bay. The petition creators want to stop honoring the slaveholder John Philips and start using a name traditionally used by St. Martiners. Many readers had thoughts about the petition and shared them in online comments.
Several readers wanted to avoid what is “happening in the USA” or “becoming like the USA.” They seemed to believe that the fight for social justice is new, and that it started in the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the Haitian revolution and countless other uprisings to the present day, the Caribbean has led the world in the fight for freedom, dignity and equality.
On St. Martin, the fight began during slavery. We have records of revolt in Marigot in 1830 and escapes to freedom in Anguilla and St. Kitts after slavery was abolished in English territories. The Diamond Escape 26 from Cole Bay claimed their own freedom after emancipation on the French side. In doing so, they changed the conditions of slavery on the Dutch side for the next 15 years. Their legacy has been celebrated since 2005 through reenactments of their run for freedom.
The Ponum Dance dates back to the era of slavery. Kept alive for generations, it was revived by Inez Eliza Baly-Lewis in 1982. It has been studied, cherished and performed since then by Clara Reyes and other St. Martiners. Today the dance is at the heart of local culture.
In 1959, Joseph H. Lake, Sr. founded the Windward Islands Opinion newspaper “as a means of helping to improve the social, economical and political conditions of the Windward Islands by advocating against the causes of injustice and oppression.” He wrote about the need for fair wages and respect for workers. He promoted self-pride, unity, democracy and freedom.
A group of St. Martiners from both sides of the island started St. Martin Day in 1959. Felix Choisy, Clem Labega, Hubert Petit and Claude Wathey created the holiday to celebrate island unity, and the people and culture of St. Martin. They chose November 11th so they wouldn’t need to ask permission from the French or Dutch to celebrate their own island.
The national flag of St. Martin, now also known as the unity flag, was created in 1990 to represent both sides of the island, and all St. Martiners as one nation. The design of the flag, and the symbols used, depict the island itself and its history. It stands for freedom, unity and local pride.
There are countless other examples of St. Martin leading a movement towards justice, equality and respect for all. This movement is made of local authors, activists, historians, teachers, artists and leaders. It is made of everyone who preserves and passes on memories and traditions. This movement didn’t come from the USA. It is probably older than the USA itself. And it will carry on as long as people live on this island.
Do you have a favorite moment in St. Martin’s movement towards justice and equality? Share it by sending a message to [email protected] or to The Daily Herald.