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Gov. DeJongh Talks Reparations with Danish Human Rights Official

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Feb. 2, 2007 — A Danish human rights official met Friday with Gov. John deJongh Jr. at Government House to discuss slavery reparations with Denmark.
Morten Kjaerum, executive director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, met with deJongh in his office for more than an hour to explain the scope of reparations, which, unlike failed efforts elsewhere, does not include an immediate financial element.
"This is not about financial compensation. This is not about apology. It's about people to people understanding, coming to terms with our history. All these other components are in many ways much deeper, much more complex than any financial compensation," Kjaerum said.
Last year, Kjaerum and Shelley Moorhead, president of the St. Croix-based African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, agreed to work together to educate Danes about their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Denmark owned the Virgin Islands until 1917, when they were sold to the United States.
"When I was a kid and went to school I didn't learn anything about it — maybe there was one or two paragraphs in a history book," Kjaerum said. "When Shelley Moorhead came to Denmark and visited a number of high schools talking about these issues, suddenly the high school students, they were somewhat puzzled, saying 'Why didn't we know anything about this? This is important.'"
Denmark outlawed the slave trade in 1792 after transporting more than 100,000 enslaved Africans — mostly from Ghana — to the Americas.
Any financial reparations would fail, Kjaerum and Moorhead agreed, unless Danes and Virgin Islanders knew their common history. They advocated cultural and technological exchanges.
Kjaerum said, while many Danes were interested in learning more about their ancestors role in the slave trade, others frown on looking back to uglier times.
"I'm more interested in what the collective Danish consciousness produces. I'm not demanding it, but if it produces an apology, so be it," Moorhead said. "So, money? Everything but."
Also at the meeting were Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, St. Croix Farmers in Action Vice President Kendall Petersen and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
Nelson said he plans to visit Denmark later this year with members of ACCRA to continue the reparations effort.
DeJongh was not available to comment after the closed-door meeting.
"The intent was to sensitize the governor to the whole movement with Denmark, and I believe the governor was receptive. He was honest about having to educate himself more about what's going on and the whole reparations movement," said Nelson.
Moorhead said he was pleased with the reception from deJongh: "He's taken an assessment, and we'll see what he gives back."
Denmark could help St. Croix return to agricultural prominence, Petersen said.
"The people who put the plantations in St. Croix live in castles. They don't live in neighborhoods. They live in castles," Petersen said.
"The wealth that came out of the Virgin Islands wasn't no little wealth. It's what built Denmark," he said.
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