Nov 15, 2004 – Thirty Virgin Islanders on St. Croix Sunday discussed how modern governments could pay reparations to island descendants of slaves.
Shelley Moorhead, chairman of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, called the meeting at the Cormorant Restaurant in Christiansted, the first in an ongoing process to forge practical action.
The discussion often was emotional. Attorney Cardinal Mills said, "Slavery was devastating culturally and spiritually. We must find a way to repair that damage."
Two senators – Ronald Russell and Usie Richards were in attendance. Also attending were Senator-elect T. "Positive" Nelson and a representative for Sen. Emmett Hansen.
Richards said the group had a long way to go: "Before we can make any progress, we have to get our house in order."
No one in the group disagreed with Richards, but they wanted to know specifically what they needed to do to get that "house" in order. A draft of a proposed bill was passed around for comments from the group. However, Moorhead said, "This is not just about a bill."
Many others appeared to agree with them. They spoke of families who did not know their history or were ashamed of it. One spoke of "internal oppression." She pointed to the language in the bill which said "freed slaves." She said, "No woman on the planet has ever given birth to a slave." She said people had been enslaved and that was the correct term.
Others spoke of the lingering effects of slavery. H. Hannibal O'Bryan, of the territory's public defender's office, said many of African descent were now "free from" such things as chains, but they were not "free to" do many things.
Nebet Chenzira Kanina voiced discouragement at the educational system in the Virgin Islands. She said, "I am tired of seeing brothers in jail at 18 and sisters having nine children before they are 30."
She said, "This needs to change now. We need to take it to [Education Commissioner] Noreen Michaels."
Mills said, "We adopt every bogus education program from America and then use draconian methods to enforce it."
Kanina added, "Not only will this government leave a child behind, it will leave a whole village behind."
Nelson agreed with others that the children needed to learn what the reparations effort was all about and education would be the key to that. He added, however, that it might not be easy. He said, "I have taught in classrooms where I am the only one who had a textbook."
Leif Clemens Pedersen was the one person of Danish descent who attended the meeting. He said if the group expected the Danish government to pay any money, they were going to be disappointed. However, he said the Danish government might be willing to invest in the Virgin Islands.
Group members said that the Danish government was not the only government responsible since many colonial powers played a part in the history of the Caribbean and the matter should probably be addressed through the European Union.
A sheet was passed around listing ethnic groups that had received reparations – $1 billion and 44 million acres of land to Alaskan natives, $81 million to the Klamath Indians of Oregon, $105 million to the Lakota of South Dakota, $12.3 million to the Seminoles of Florida and $1.2 billion to Japanese Americans. Germany also paid millions to Holocaust survivors, and Canada millions to Japanese Canadians.
The day started at 10 a.m. with a presentation by Randall Robinson, author of the book, "The Debt." The discussion was to end at 3 p.m. but was actually called to a halt a little after 4 p.m.
Moorhead said that everyone attending would be notified of another meeting. The Alliance plans to hold two meetings a month.
He wrote in the program, "The African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance represents the coming together of a broad-based, diverse group of international organizations for the purpose of advocating reparations for the crimes committed against Caribbean people."
He added that the objective of the group was "to establish an ongoing think tank and action committee geared towards encouraging legislation that will result in Denmark's re-investment in the economy of the Virgin Islands as an effort to make amends for disadvantages caused by enslaving the foreparents of Virgin Islanders."
In the program for the event there was a quote from Eric Williams' book "From Columbus to Castro – the History of the Caribbean." It said the Danish West India Company was making profits from 25 to 70 percent on slaves even though the mortality rate of slaves crossing the Atlantic could reach 50 percent.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.