GREAT BAY/MARIGOT, St. Martin — “The St. Martin Unity Flag is flying in the area of the main border monument to salute our ancestors in this 165th year of Emancipation,” said Shujah Reiph of the Emancipation Committee.
Only a few feet from the Bellevue/Union Road frontier, drivers, passengers, and pedestrians may glimpse the Unity Flag on the flagpole at the St. Jean Estate.
With the gracious permission of the property owners, the location was selected because of its proximity, further up the hill, to the rockwall over which “26 enslaved Black men, women and children from the Diamond Estate in Cole Bay had escaped from Slavery in the Dutch part of the island,” said Reiph.
“Historical records show that the Diamond Estate 26, and others who ran over Marigot Hill and escaped through the freedom pass in Belvedere, took their Freedom in the French-controlled North of the island in 1848,” said Reiph.
“In the French territory the Emancipation news had also been hidden from the enslaved people by the European slave owners, government, church and military officials, and other parts of the establishment in Marigot. But the declaration of Freedom couldn’t be held back for long after the May 27 Emancipation date because of mounting tension,” said Reiph.
According to the book National Symbols of St. Martin, anti-slavery actions by the Diamond Estate 26 and other enslaved ancestors in the Dutch part of the island were also immediately on the rise.
The governor in Philipsburg was forced to declare a process verbal, which de facto ended Slavery in 1848 in the South of St. Martin. This occurred during the same period that Slavery was abolished in the French-controlled North of St. Martin—and 15 years before emancipation was declared in the other Dutch slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean region on July 1, 1863, according to National Symbols of St. Martin.
As the Unity Flag was being hoisted last May 11, Reiph said that author Fabian Badejo conducted a touching libation. “We are honoring you, our ancestors, because of the brave stand you took, to fight against Slavery,” said Badejo during the offering.
Once the flag was raised, senior educator Claudette Labega, assistant high school principal Marie Richardson, and primary school student Rajheem Meulens, read from the poem “The National Flag of St. Martin” by Charles Borromeo Hodge.
“The Unity Flag, was unveiled 23 years ago as the ‘National Flag’ to represent both parts of our island as one nation. It is encouraging to see the flag saluting the 165th Emancipation anniversary,” said poet and independentista Lasana M. Sekou.
“The Unity Flag is a concrete symbol of the nation’s historic and cultural unity. The Unity Flag is further offered as a visible symbol to keep fostering that unity between all of the St. Martin people, in the North and South. For some of us this unity banner is also in defiance of the French and Dutch colonialism that still divides our island into two territories,” said Sekou.
A plaque was unveiled next to the Unity Flag at the St. Jean Estate, bearing the following lines from Hodge’s poem: “Fly free, fair standard …/Singing upon the winds, fly proud and free/Uniting Sweet St. Martin’s kindred flock—/One Land, one People, and one Destiny!” The complete poem is in Songs & Images of St. Martin (1997).
The ad hoc Emancipation Committee is organizing anniversary activities throughout the year. The 165th anniversary activities are centered around what the committee has identified as an “Emancipation period, which stretches from May 27 to July 1,” said Reiph.
Commemorative activities by government officials in both capitals have already taken place in May or are scheduled for July 1 in the North and South respectively. “It is not clear if the official July 1 observation in Great Bay will focus on the independent stand and history made by St. Martiners in 1848, who did not wait for Dutch permission or the 1863 dictate to claim that stage of our Freedom journey,” said Sekou.
“Today, our stand of honor and courage as men, women, and children should be to ‘Surrender not one day of Freedom won by our Ancestors!’” said Sekou. Private organizations such as Voices Foundation are also hosting cultural activities on July 1.
Caption1: St. Martin’s Unity Flag hoisted by activist Shujah Reiph in tribute to the Diamond Estate 26 and St. Martin’s 165th Anniversary of Emancipation (1848-2013).
Caption2: Participants and onlookers following the Unity Flag raising (5/11/13) in tribute to the Diamond Estate 26 and St. Martin’s 165th Anniversary of Emancipation (1848-2013).