Jensen, Peter Hoxcer. From Serfdom to Fireburn and Strike: The History of Black Labor in the Danish West Indies 1848-1916. Christiansted, St. Croix: Antilles Press, 1998.
This book appears at a time when there is tremendous local, regional and international interest in 19th century emancipation in the West Indies. That event occurred in the U.S. Virgin Islands – the erstwhile Danish West Indies – on July 3, 1848. Peter Hoxcer Jensen’s fascinating new book takes up where the story of slavery leaves off and where the hard road to freedom begins. Employing previously unused materials form Danish archival and administrative sources, Jensen traces the ex-slaves’ journey from servitude, through neo-serfdom and revolt on the sugar- and cotton-producing estates where they had previously been slaves, to their emergence as an autonomous labor movement in the early 20th century. In the middle years of World War I, the disenfranchised laborers formed a labor union and struggled for recognition from the colonial government and the plantocracy, both of which continued to regard them narrowly through the distorting lens of race, color and class interests. The successful strike of 1916 played a significant role in the development of a cohesive labor movement, the nurturing of local leadership, the granting of freedom of the press and, eventually, the sale of the Danish islands to the United States in 1917. Jensen has provided us with the first scholarly study of this important period, in a treatment that is both broad and deep. From Serfdom to Fireburn and Strike is destined to take its rightful place alongside earlier ground-breaking works of Waldemar Westergaard, Isaac Dookhan, N. A. T. Hall, C. G. A. Oldendorp, and John Knox as an original, seminal study that advances Virgin Islands and Caribbean historiography.