David Hamilton Jackson – rebel and hero

The black labor leader David Hamilton Jackson has been described in completely different ways. For officials towards the end of the Danish era he was an unpleasant rebel. But for the black population of the islands he was and is a hero.
Picture of David Hamilton Jackson.
David Hamilton Jackson (1884-1946), West Indian labor leader.

Jackson was born in 1884 on St. Croix. That was 36 years after the abolition of slavery, but conditions for the population were still hard. He was educated as a school teacher, but he spoke out critically about the Catholic Church, and as a consequence he was dismissed by the Danish school authorities. Instead, he became a clerk but also lost this position after a run-in with Governor Helweg-Larsen. After this, he received legal training at the University of Chicago.

Charismatic and tough

Jackson’s charisma, talent for oratory, and effective agitation in favor of better living conditions for the population of the islands soon made him the leader of the local unions. In 1915, he arrived in Copenhagen where he spoke on behalf of the impoverished blacks and gained a certain amount of sympathy.

Back home on St. Croix, he founded the newspaper The Herald in November 1915. Jackson wrote and edited the four-page paper himself. Here, he vehemently criticized Danish colonial rule and encouraged the people of his class to be proud and demand better social and economic conditions for themselves. The tone was tough, and he called the director of education a shameless liar and the Governor a bloodthirsty tyrant. In return, the Governor called him a dreamer and a hothead.

Strike led by Jackson

When plantation owners refused to increase wages during the sugar harvest in 1915-16, the farm workers on St. Croix went on strike – led by Jackson and the union. The end result was that the plantation owners had to accept that the work day from sunup to sundown was reduced to 9 hours and that the workers were given a raise from 10-20 cents to 35 cents per day. After this, the dock workers on St. Thomas also went on strike and also achieved considerable improvements in work conditions and wages.

The Black Moses

After the Danish sale of the West Indies to the US in 1917, Jackson became a judge in Christiansted and politician in the islands until his death in 1946. Today on the islands, he is considered to be a hero by the black population, the Black Moses, who helped his people escape a life of slavery. In the Virgin Islands, November 1 – the day of the first publication of Jackson’s newspaper – is a public holiday: David Hamilton Jackson Day.