The United States Virgin Islands,
Editor: Paul M. Leary
Three lectures originally sponsored by the St. Thomas Friends of Denmark
with the assistance of a grant from the Virgin Islands Humanities Council
Project Director: George Tyson
BUREAU of PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
OF THE p
sPnC. COL. UNIVERSITY of the VIRGIN ISLANDS o T
A publication of the Bureau of Public Administration, University of the Virgin Islands, St.
Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, May, 1988.
Taking Bearings: The United
States Virgin Islands, 1917 1987
Editor: Paul M. Leary
Three lectures originally sponsored by the St. Thomas Friends of Denmark with the assistance of a
grant from the Virgin Islands Humanities Council.
Project Director: George Tyson
Propelled by powerful, externally driven winds and currents of change the Virgin
Islands is veering recklessly toward the twenty-first century in a sea of uncertainty and an
cloudy atmosphere charged with impending disaster. It is not that we are adrift or floundering.
Rather, it is as if we have been caught up in the explosive velocity of a terrible discharge and
are being hurled into the void.
Our vessel itself has become increasingly unseaworthy due to severe overcrowding,
deteriorating fixtures, defective instrumentation, inadequate maintenance and various
structural stresses. Its very design may be unsuitable to the myriad challenges that lie ahead.
It is an open question whether those aboard know where they are heading, much less
how to navigate the obstacles looming before them. Reflective concern with future destinations
and potential hazards seems to have been overwhelmed by the exigencies and gratifications of
the fleeting present. The cargo of the past has been almost completely jettisoned, but without
its ballast it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a steady course. Familiar
landscapes are fast disappearing from view, and unanimity of purpose has become increasingly
difficult to achieve. Our leaders seem content to be mere engineers, who follow dubious tracks
laid out by others, rather than intrepid captains directing a purposeful collective effort, while
skillfully guiding us through uncharted waters. And we demand nothing more of them. A ship
Today the people of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John seem no more in control of their
own destiny than in 1917, when they were ignominously sold without consent by Denmark to the
United States of America. If "progress", "growth", "development" are to be measured, as they
should be, in terms of meaningful autonomy and self-reliance, as well as material well-being,
than the Virgin Islands has gained very little from that exchange of colonial overlords.
Indeed, it can be legitimately argued that despite clear material improvements, costs
may outweigh benefits. For in 1917 Islanders had a clear sense of their own identity, their own
culture, their own values. Their homeland belonged to them, and they could envision a brighter
future in which they and their posterity might flourish. As the Islands have become
increasingly Americanized that indigenous culture and that crystalline vision have steadily
receded, while Virgin Islanders themselves have been progressively displaced to the point
where they are now a numerical minority. With their passing has gone the ability to hold a
clear and steady course against prevailing elements.
If we in the Virgin Islands want to know where we are heading, and to understand what
factors have brought us to our present condition, than an imperative first step is to take
bearings. Our present course will become clearer once we can accurately establish our present
position relative to where we have been. And, our ability to take effective command pver our
trajectory depends on an accurate assessment of the circumstances and forces encompassing us.
The essays presented in this publication represent important contributions to the urgent
task of situational definition. Written by leading authorities in the fields of history, sociology
and political science, they provide exceptionally well documented and thoughtful assessments
of the many profound transformations that have occurred in the Virgin Islands during the
seventy years since they passed from Danish to American sovereignty. By expertly delineating
the historical processes and current trends that have brought us to our present state, they not
only help us understand where we are and what direction we are taking, but provide valuable
insights into how we might deal with future challenges.
The observations of these experts are not very reassuring. In his comprehensive survey
of economic and socio-cultural changes since 1917 Dr. Klaus de Albuquerque, formerly Associate
Professor of Sociology at UVI, and currently on the faculty of Charleston College, points out
that the shift from a closed economy based on agriculture to an open economy based largely on
tourism has produced profound demographic alterations along with improved employment
opportunities and living standards. Explosive population growth since 1950 has outstripped
the capabilities of our natural resources and physical infrastructure. In consequence of massive
immigration from other Caribbean islands and the U.S. mainland, native Virgin Islanders now
comprise only 47% of the population.
While Dr. de Albuquerque is careful not to make hasty generalizations from the
statistical data that he has so impressively mustered, the conclusion seems inescapable that
the benefits of prosperity are being reaped primarily by the new immigrants, while the Islands
have become more dependent than ever on external investment, financial and labor inputs.
In her penetrating study of race and ethnic relations since 1917, Dr. Marilyn Krigger,
Professor of History at the University of the Virgin Islands, argues that since 1917, and
particularly since large numbers of White Americans began settling in the Islands, a relatively
benign, creole pattern of race relations has given way to a more Americanized one characterized
by tensions, stereotyping and exclusiveness. She notes that although Black Virgin Islanders
have elevated their political status and achieved some social gains, they continue to be
disadvantaged economically. The increasing reliance on tourism has tended to excacerbate
racial tensions, while perpetuating a hierarchical social structure that relegates the Black
majority to an inferior socioeconomic status.
Dr. Paul Leary, Professor of Political Science at the University of the Virgin Islands,
has contributed a provocative, but disquieting analysis of political status, which questions
whether the long-time and relatively successful political strategy of working to secure full
application of the U.S. Constitution to the Territory remains an appropriate response to our
present socioeconomic circumstances. He acknowledges the major strides toward greater self-
government and political democracy that have been achieved, largely through struggle, during
the past seventy years. But he points out that these accomplishments have not fundamentally
altered our subordinate relationship to the United States, which more than anything else
conditions the course of change. He is not optimistic that Virgin Islanders have either the
political will or unity of purpose essential to transform our present colonial status.
These essays were originally prepared and presented under the auspices of a lecture
series commemorating the Seventieth Anniversary of the Transfer of the Islands from Denmark
to the United States. The lecture series was sponsored by the St. Thomas Friends of Denmark,
with the assistance of a grant from the Virgin Islands Humanities Council. Grateful
acknowledgement must go to Mrs. Audrey Donovan, Mr. Achille Bertrand and Mr. Edmund Penn
of the St. Thomas Friends of Denmark, and to Mr. David Barzelay and Ms. Sherry Simmonds of
the Humanities Council for their generous support and able assistance.
Recognition must also be extended to the University of the Virgin Islands, and
particularly to Dr. Paul Leary, Director of the Bureau of Public Administration, for undertaking
to print and distribute this publication. The University's concern that the lectures be published
so that they can reach the widest possible audience is further evidence of its commitment to
stimulating thoughtful community dialogue concerning the future of the Virgin Islands.
SocIO-EcoNoMIC CHANGES IN THE UNITED STATES
A SEVENTY YEAR (1917-1987) RETROSPECTIVE
Klaus de Albuquerque
Department of Sociology
College of Charleston
Governor Admiral Oliver in his second report (dated August 1, 1917) to the Secretary of
the Navy summarized conditions in the newly acquired Virgin Islands of the United States as
The death rate is very high, infant mortality being particularly disgraceful to a
civilized community... Three hospitals have been run with varying degrees of
relative efficiency--none of them really efficient. There is a lack of proper
buildings, proper equipment, trained personnel... Sanitation is in imperative
need of improvement... Adequate water supply and a proper system of sewage is
a health necessity... The roads in St. Croix are very fair but repairs have not
been properly maintained. There are only about 4 miles of roads in St. Thomas...
Fire protection is inadequate... There are practically no food crops except a
small quantity of yams and sweet potatoes... The Islands are incapable of self-
support and must continue to be aided by Federal appropriations... The existing
system of public instruction in these islands leaves about everything in the way
of an adequate system to be desired. The natives should be given instruction,
above all else, in the use of their hands. Social conditions are extremely bad;
there is no proper family life... The cost of the maintenance of the islands, and of
recommended improvements (totalling $1,952,000) is great, but the need is real
and vital, and aside from all other considerations, the situation is one that must
be faced and corrected. This unfortunate situation is the natural inevitable result
of centuries of neglect. (Oliver, 1917; also quoted in Evans, 1945:265)
That Admiral Oliver would paint such a dismal picture, after fifty years of express
U.S. interest in acquiring the Danish West Indies, raises two intriguing questions:
1. Why did the United States pay $25 million for what many early Naval
personnel called a "damn bunch of rocks" (Knud-Hansen, 1947:100) and
what President Hoover was to dub an "effective poorhouse of practically no
value to the United States" (see Evans, 1945:289)?, and
2. How had the Islands sunk to such an abysmal state (if Governor Oliver's
report is not considered an exaggeration) especially since St. Thomas had
variously been referred to as the "Emporium of the Antilles" (Zabriskie,
1918) and St. Croix as the "Garden of the Antilles" (de Booy and Faris,
In raising these questions it is not my intent to pursue reasons for the U.S. purchase of
the Danish West Indies or for the economic decline of the Virgin Islands in the latter part of
the Danish colonial era, since these have been examined persuasively elsewhere and are
outside the scope of this paper. But it is my intent to query whether the picture presented to us
of the Virgin Island at the time of formal transfer to the United States is indeed correct. Were
social and economic conditions as bad as to warrant the "rehabilitation of the Islands" (Evans,
1945, p. 4)? And, did the reputed beneficence of Uncle Sam, or as Evans (1945:4) puts it, the
"experiment in spending one's way to prosperity in a large way," have the desired effect? In
other words, are the changes we now see 70 years later the result of the Virgin Islands being
perhaps the "most heavily subsidized of any comparable colonial possessions" (Evans,
1945:137)? Fortunately, we have census documents and other statistics and written accounts by
several observers during the time of transfer (de Booy and Faris, 1918; Knud-Hansen, 1947;
Zabriskie, 1918) and the early years of the American Administration (Evans, 1945), as well as
the Annual Reports of the various Governors, and from this we can reconstruct a picture of the
Virgin Islands in 1917 and of the subsequent changes that occurred that may account for current
socio-cultural and economic conditions.2
DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES -1917 TO 1985
Population growth in the Virgin Islands has closely paralleled changes in the economic
fortunes of the Islands. Between 1773 and 1835 the Virgin Islands population increased by
14,595 persons, with the greatest increase (through voluntary and involuntary immigration)
occurring in St. Thomas where the economy had been transformed by import-export trading
activity (Table 1). From 1835 to 1917, the population of the Virgin Islands fell by 17,127 persons
as a result of a combination of factors: natural disasters (drought and hurricanes), the post-
emancipation decline in the St. Croix sugar industry, and the introduction of steamships which
greatly reduced St. Thomas' importance as an export entrepot. All of these factors led to
persistent emigration, and this was responsible, along with natural decrease (excess of deaths
over births), for the observed population decline (Table 1). Natural decrease was a
particularly intractable problem during the latter part of the Danish period. For example,
between 1896 and 1916, there were 21,264 deaths and 18,176 births, yielding a natural decrease
of 2,998.3 During that same period it is also estimated that 2,504 persons migrated from the
Virgin Islands (1917 U.S. Census of Population). In the period just preceding transfer (1911-
1917), emigration slowed down considerably (estimated at 160 persons) but natural increase
continued (there were 5,977 deaths and 5,102 births), propelled in large part by the high infant
and child mortality rates. Eight months after transfer the first U. S. Census of Population of
the Virgin Islands enumerated a population of 26,051 persons, the lowest number of inhabitants
since 1773. The population of the Virgin Islands declined even further between 1917 and 1930,
with the greatest loss (3,488 persons) occurring on St. Croix. This loss was primarily due to the
out-migration of Crucian agricultural labor to New York City,4 prompting one jaundiced
observer to note:
Work in Harlem is far better than federal charity in Santa Cruz. Logically, the
Federal Government should not object if the population of the Virgin Islands
should dwindle until a caretaker had to be sent over from Puerto Rico (Evans,
But by 1940, a turn-around had occurred, brought about primarily by improvements in
public health and sanitation, and by a decline in out-migration to the U.S. mainland as a result
of improved economic conditions at home.5 Some of the population growth between 1930-1940
was also due to in-migration/immigration (initially from Puerto Rico and the British Virgin
Islands), as the expanded infrastructure program and the rehabilitation of the sugar industry
on St. Croix created a shortage of labor.6
This shortage of labor was further exacerbated during World War II when a,sizeable
proportion of the Virgin Islands labor force volunteered or were conscripted for military service.
The short fall was at first met by recruiting plantation workers from the Eastern Caribbean for
the duration of the annual sugar harvest, but as the war progressed, immigration restrictions
were suspended and West Indian laborers were recruited to relieve manpower shortages in many
other areas, including defense related industries (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1982:65-66). By
the 1950s the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) had became firmly established in the
Eastern Caribbean regional labor market as one of the preferred destinations of labor migrants.
These migrants (primarily from the English-speaking Caribbean) benefited from a series of
loose interpretations and favorable revisions of U.S. immigration law and with generally lax
enforcement which made illegal entry relatively easy (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1982:66).
And they found jobs a plenty, since the USVI government had embarked on a new policy of
export diversification via tourism and light industry.
The 1960s proved to be a watershed in terms of population growth, with the USVI
population more than doubling itself (Table 1) resulting in an unheard of decennial growth rate
of 134 percent. Most of this growth was due to massive inflows of immigrants and in-migrants,
attracted by the economic boom based on tourism, heavy manufacture and related construction.
Between 1960-1969 it is conservatively estimated that 23,896 persons entered the USVI (de
Albuquerque and McElroy, 1982). By the early 1970's, several export-induced recessions, a
dramatic decline in construction activity, and tighter immigration controls, combined to restrict
the inflow of migrants from the Eastern Caribbean. Consequently, population growth during
the 1970-1980 decade remained a modest 2.5 percent per annum, with a majority of this growth
(60 percent) resulting from natural increase. Growth rates declined in 1981 but have since 1983
shown a steady increase, especially in St. Thomas and St. John (Table 1). Much of this recent
population growth is due to in-migration from the United States mainland, spurred on
primarily by renewed growth in tourism and related construction, and represents, in my
estimation, the beginning of a new migration wave that will significantly alter the racial
composition of the USVI.
Like many small Caribbean Islands, the USVI has historically retained an urban
ambience (see McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1981). As early as 1855 over half the population of
the Islands resided in the three main cities of Christiansted, Frederiksted, and Charlotte
Amalie, and for over 100 years (1855-1960), this urban bias in the overall population
distribution endured (see Table 2).
At the time of transfer (1917) the majority of the inhabitants in both St. Croix and St.
Thomas lived in towns. St. John was predominantly rural although Theodore de Booy (de Booy
and Faris, 1918) noted that the "principal village" of Cruz Bay had 150 inhabitants, the East
End 100, and Coral Bay 60. Charlotte Amalie was the largest town with a population of 7,747
(Table 2). Luther Zabriskie (1918), the United States Vice Consul in St. Thomas (1916-1917),
in describing Charlotte Amalie noted the following:
A more cleanly town today than Charlotte Amalie scarcely exists. From the
trimly-kept, red brick fort, used as a prison and police station, and the
handsomely-built barracks, down to the smallest building, one is impressed with
the air of neatness and cleanliness that prevails... Substantial brick stores
extend to the water's edge (p.42).
He lamented the fact that many of the warehouses were empty and deserted and that
the merchants had gone,7 but he did note that prosperity would return to Charlotte Amalie and
that the harbor would once again become "gay with the flags of many nations" and the streets
peopled with "picturesque searovers" (p. 44). Christiansted (pop. 4,574), by contrast, was
described as having an "air of quiet repose" far different from the "stir and bustle of St.
Thomas", while the inhabitants of Fredericksted (pop. 3,144) were praised for their "energy
and commercial enterprise" (p. 45). Other chroniclers (De Booy and Faris, 1918; Knud-Hansen,
1941) also made similar observations regarding the cleanliness of the towns, their handsome
architecture and their agreeable climate.
Between 1917 and 1980 several trends in the distribution of population are observable.
The first is that St. Thomas maintained the earlier observed urban imbalance with an urban
population comprising of anywhere from 71 to 87 percent of the total population (Table 3).
Second, between 1960 and 1970 the urban-rural ratio in St. Thomas reversed itself dramatically,
prompted by a variety of structural conditions and a host of economically related factors.8
Third, both Christiansted and Fredericksted have shown a gradual decrease in population in
this century (Table 2) although in the 1970 and 1980 censuses this was the result of not
redrawing boundaries to reflect new urban growth. Fourth, the increase in the urban population
between 1970 and 1980 after widespread "suburbanization" in the 1960s and early 1970s (Table
3) is explained by the growth of new urban areas (for example, Tutu in St. Thomas). Lastly, the
new communities which have sprung up since 1960 can be considered geographic satellites of the
traditional urban centers. In St. Croix, Company (Christiansted subdistrict) and West End
(Frederiksted subdistrict) which border on Christiansted and Frederiksted respectively,
represent the largest non-urban population concentration for 1970 and 1980 (McElroy and de
Albuquerque, 1981) and in conjunction with the districts (Queen, King and Prince) that straddle
the main highway linking Christiansted and Frederiksted, comprise between 75 to 80 percent of
the total population. Likewise, in St. Thomas, "suburban" sprawl extended outwards (1960-
1980) from Charlotte Amalie to the two adjacent subdistricts: Southside Quarter (Charlotte
Amalie West) and New Quarter (Charlotte Amalie East and Anna's Retreat). These two
areas together with the town of Charlotte Amalie account for 75 percent of the total
population. So what we have seen since 1917, is a fairly constant urban-rural ratio until 1960,
followed by widespread suburbanization between 1960 and 1970, and then the growth of new
urban areas in the late seventies and early eighties.
Even by Caribbean standards, St. Thomas and St. Croix have historically been densely
populated. Greatest increases in population density between 1917 and 1985 occurred during the
1960-1970 growth period (Table 4), when densities on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John
increased by 140, 130 and 109 percent respectively. Increases in population density between 1970
and 1985 were less dramatic, but were nevertheless significant.
Until 1980, only Barbados had a higher population density than St. Thomas in the
Caribbean, but by 1985 St. Thomas had bypassed Barbados to achieve this ignominious honor.
The inordinately high population density of St. Thomas is exacerbated by the heavy
daily/weekly inflow of tourists. The effects of this high density are apparent everywhere--in
the destruction of the marine environment, soil erosion, litter, noise, and traffic congestion in
and around Charlotte Amalie. Besides these environmental implications, there are indications
that social pathologies (racism, crime, alcoholism, etc.), under conditions of crowding, have
intensified, although research into the relationship between density and crime incidence has
yielded inconclusive results (de Albuquerque, 1984). Because of the obvious problems associated
with further population growth on St. Thomas, greater vigilance must be observed in terms of
protecting both the natural and social environment.
The Virgin Islands in 1917 was a decidedly older society. The median age for the
population was 26 years (24.7 years for males and 27 for females) having declined from the
estimated 26.7 years in the 1911 census, an indication that the aging of the population that had
been occurring since the late nineteenth century had been arrested.10 The pre-growth period
(1917-1960) was marked by two notable changes in the age composition of the population. First,
the percentage of children under 5 and aged 5-14 increased significantly (Table 5) as a result of
improvements in sanitation and maternal and child health care. Secondly, the working-age
population (15-64) declined from 63.7 percent to 53.3 percent, the greatest declines occurring in
the 25-44 age group (Table 5). These declines were due mainly to out-migration of Virgin
Islanders to the continental United States, with the most discernible changes in the working-
age category occurring during the periods of greatest out-migration-- 1917 to 1930 and 1940 to
From 1960 to 1980 there has been a noticeable reversal of earlier trends, with an
increase in the working-age population (15-64 years), because of the very significant
immigration of young working-aged persons from the Eastern Caribbean, and corresponding
declines in the population under 15 and over 65. The latter, whose percentage distribution in
the population remained constant between 1917 and 1960, showed a significant decline in the
1960s. The overall trend in the age composition of the population from 1917 to 1980, has been
towards a "greening" of the population (the median age declined from 26.0 years to 22.4 years),
but there are indications that the new in-migration from the continental United States will
reverse this trend, since retirees and near-retirees make up a significant portion of this migrant
The 1917 Census and various early reports from the Naval Administration (see, for
example, the 1928 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands) make pointed reference
to the imbalance in the sex ratio (85.4 males per 100 females in 1917), the result of migration sex
selectivity and differential mortality. When the sex composition of the population in 1917 is
disaggregated by island and residence (urban-rural), females significantly out number males in
St. Thomas and St. Croix and in all three towns, and males slightly out number females in rural
areas and in St. John.
Table 6 shows a gradual equalization in the number of males and females between 1940
and 1970, as more male migrants entered the USVI from the neighboring Eastern Caribbean
Islands. This sex selectivity is understandable since economic growth, and particularly the
1960s boom, created a demand, primarily, for male workers in the construction, oil refining and
alumina industries. By 1980, however, the sex composition of the population had returned to
1940 levels, with females once again outnumbering males.11
Natality and Mortality
Crude birth rates in the Virgin Islands in this century have been particularly sensitive
to migration trends. At the time of transfer and the period following (1920-1929) the steady
out-migration/ emigration of the reproductively active population (15-44 years) had a
depressing effect on fertility. In fact, during the 1920-29 period the crude birth rate reached an
all time low of 24.6 births per 1,000 population (Table 7). It increased in the 1930s with the
general improvement in the overall health of the population, a decline in out-
migration/emigration and the beginnings of immigration, and, by the 1960's economic boom, the
annual average birth rate had reached fairly significant levels (38.3 per 1,000 with a high of
42.0 in 1964). The 1960's baby boom was a direct result of large scale immigration from the
Eastern Caribbean, and in particular, the 23.5 percent increase in the proportion of women in the
15-44 reproductive age group (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1982). Birth rates have declined
considerably since the early seventies, with the decline in immigration, changing values
regarding family size, and increasing female education and participation in the labor force.
Further declines in the birth rate have been observed in the 1980s and this downward trend
Death rates in this century have progressively declined from a high of 36.2 per 1,000
population in 1900-1909 (Table 7) to a low of under 6 per 1,000 (1970-1981).12 From 1917 to 1940,
the mortality rate declined rapidly due to a concerted effort, first by the Naval
Administration, and later by Governor Pearson, to improve public health, sanitation, and
maternal and child health. More striking declines in infant mortality (deaths to infants under
1 year per 1,000 live births) were recorded for the same period (Table 7). In Danish times infant
mortality rates hovered around 300 and at about the time of transfer infant mortality rates
were estimated at 320 (Table 7).13 Searching for causes of the high infant mortality rates they
found in 1917, U.S. Bureau of Census officials noted:
The present infant mortality rate probably is accounted for mainly by the fact
that most of the parents are poor and dependent on their daily wages for a
meager livelihood; by the fact that 58.7 percent of the married women and
women living with their husbands by mutual consent were engaged in gainful
occupations in 1917, a large proportion of them as field laborers; and by the
further fact that a large proportion of the children are born out of wedlock...
Since these conditions are not peculiar to the present they probably account
largely, also, for the high infant mortality rate in past years (1917 Census of
Population of the Virgin Islands of the United States, pp. 38-39).
By the 1930s the infant mortality rate had been reduced to 126.3 (84 for St. Thomas
according to Dr. Knud-Hansen) and by the 1960s it had dropped to an annual average of 31.8
(Table 7). Current estimates put the infant mortality rate at slightly less than 17.
Race and Ethnicity
According to Table 8, the most significant shift (1917-1980) in the racial composition of
the population has been the growing importance (both numerically and economically) of the
white population, with the beginning of the American presence (1917-1930), and more recently,
the increasing in-migration of mainland entrepreneurs/professionals attracted by expanding
economic opportunities (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1985). The declining numerical
significance of the black population between 1930 and 1960 resulted from the increasing
importance of both the white and mixed and other (mainly Puerto Ricans) categories. Since
1960, the black proportion of the population has increased as a result of heavy immigration
from the Eastern Caribbean, but post 1970 declines in this immigration, plus recent white in-
migration (1983-1987), have arrested this growth. Interpreting changes in the mixed and other
population is complicated because of the ambiguities that underly the system of race/color
classification. For example, the declines in the mixed population recorded between 1917 and
1930 might have been the result of shifts in public perception, reflected by census enumerators,
with respect to race and color. Similar declines between 1960 and 1980 could also be primarily
the result of a change-over from the traditional enumerator designation system to self-
identification in the 1980 census. The observed overall increase in the mixed and other
population between 1930 and 1940 was definitely due to in-migration of Puerto Ricans from
Vieques and Culebra to the Island of St. Croix.
Inter-island data indicate some interesting differences in the racial composition of the
population. At the time of transfer the largest white presence (government officials,
merchants, etc.) was in St. Thomas, while the number of whites on St. John was miniscule (Table
8). St. Croix had the largest percentage of blacks but the Crucian population was diluted
between 1930 and 1960 by Puerto Rican in-migration. St. John has since 1960 witnessed a
remarkable increase in its white population and by 1990 it is reasonable to assume that the
complexion of the St. Johnian population will have changed very radically from its halcyon
days in the earlier part of this century.14
The remarkable ethnic diversity of the USVI today is a by product of immigration/in-
migration. Nineteen seventeen found a population that was overwhelmingly native born (76
percent), with the remainder born in the nearby Leeward and Windward Islands. Only 2.3
percent of the population had been born in the Continental United States and an even smaller
number in Denmark (Table 9). Between 1917 and 1950 the native born component of the
population remained constant, while those born in the continental United States and Puerto
Rico increased, and those born elsewhere in the Caribbean declined. The 1950s and 1960s
proved to be a watershed, significantly changing both the nativity and/or ethnic composition
of the Islands. The percentage of native born (born in the USVI) persons declined from 73.0
percent in 1950 to 47.4 percent in 1970, while the proportion of persons born in the continental
United States, Puerto Rico and the Eastern Caribbean increased dramatically (de Albuquerque
and McElroy, 1985). In 1980, non-native born persons made up over 50 percent of the population
of the USVI (Table 9).
The immigrant composition of the USVI population by place of origin has not changed
significantly between 1917 and 1980. In 1917, the largest number of immigrants were from the
Eastern Caribbean Islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands,
Antigua-Barbuda, and Barbados. These same island societies (with the exception of Barbados)
were also the major contributors of immigrants to the USVI in the 1970s and early 1980s. Two
new ethnic groups, Palestinians and East Indians (from India and not the Caribbean) have
become increasingly visible since the mid 1970s, and, although their numbers are small, they
have had an important impact on retail trade (grocery, haberdashery/dry goods, gas stations,)
and on the tourist duty free shopping trade.
Many observers of the USVI, including Naval Governor Waldo Evans (Annual Report of
the Governor, 1928) tended to view agriculture as the panacea to the economic problems of the
Virgin Islands. This blind faith in agriculture ignored a fundamental reality, namely, that
with the exception of the early Danish Colonial period, food self sufficiency has always been a
major problem in the Virgin Islands. However, given the sentiments attached to farming in the
Caribbean, and local beliefs that agriculture is a natural and honorable vocation, both naval
and civilian Administrations poured money annually into various agricultural projects despite
limited payoffs and innumerable failures. Governor Lawrence Cramer (Annual Report of the
Governor, 1940) was prescient enough to recognize that funding for agriculture would have to
continue because agriculture in the Virgin Islands "is not only a means of livelihood but also a
way of living an economic as well a social manifestation" (p.6). But social manifestation
aside, why did, and has, agriculture performed so dismally in the USVI and why have
agriculture production/consumption ratios declined so drastically (McElroy and de Albuquerque,
First, the Danish Colonial economy, with its emphasis on plantation agriculture,
bequeathed to the Virgin Islands a system of land tenure notable for its concentration of land in
the hands of a few descendants of the plantocracy.5 This severely limited the amount of land
available for small holder cultivation (see Table 11) and in fact, it was the absence of a small
holder tradition, which developed in many other Caribbean Islands, that stymied agricultural
development in the Virgin Islands. Secondly, rainfall reliability and water for irrigation
purposes have always been a major problem, resulting in the abandonment of several schemes to
diversify agricultural production and raise crops for an external market (see, for example, the
attempt to raise vegetables for the United States winter market Annual Report of the
Governor, 1928, pp. 16-17). Third, diseconomies of scale have reduced any competitive
advantage U.S. political affiliation confers (for example, exemption from import duties) and,
combined with transportation problems, have made attempts at export production a dismal
failure. Fourth, much of the land in the USVI, especially in St. Thomas and St. John, is
unsuitable for cultivation, and has since the 1970s been much too valuable to devote to
The above notwithstanding, at the time of the United States purchase of the Danish
West Indies, St. Croix and St. John were primarily agricultural. St. Thomas grew very little
food, depending largely on food imports from the United States and Europe, and fruits and
vegetables from nearby Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. Since 1917, agriculture has
steadily declined, with the declines accelerating after 1960 because of the phase-out of
commercial sugar production, intensified resource competition from tourism, construction,
government, and export manufacturing, and a widespread pattern of "suburbanization" in
response to rising population densities caused by intense immigration/in-migration pressures
(McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1981; 1985.) Table 10 details this steady deterioration. In 1917,
69,892 acres were in farmland, and agriculture accounted for 41.7 percent of all employment.
Average farm size was 162.5 acres. By 1930, the acreage in farms and the percent in agricultural
employment had declined and these declines intensified between 1930 and 1960 and 1960 and
1975. In addition, there have been observable declines in agriculture as a principal occupation
and in the use of hired labor on farms. Also observable are several internal adjustments to the
changing agricultural picture, most notably a decline in the proportion of new farm operators (2
to 4 years on farm), the increased use of tractors and fertilizers as substitutes for labor, and a
shift away from cropping to animal husbandry (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1985).
Noticeable changes in the distribution of farm size and acreage are also apparent in
Table 11. For example, the proportion of smallest holdings (under 3 acres) increased 10 fold
between 1930 and 1983, yet the percent of total acres accounted for by these holdings only
increased 3 fold. Correspondingly, the proportion of large farms (500 acres +) declined
significantly between 1917 and 1982, but the percent of total acreage accounted for by these
farms remained relatively stable. In other words, small holdings increased in number and
became even smaller while large holdings declined in number but became even larger.
The net result of these changes was a decline in sugar, cattle and vegetable production
(Table 12) and an increased emphasis on small holder fruit, nut and livestock (goats, hogs and
poultry) production, a common Caribbean index of the marginalization of agriculture
Under Danish Colonial law, education for children between the ages of 7-13 was
compulsory, as the Danish felt that schooling was "eminently a measure of public security"
since it fostered discipline among an otherwise "unruly and passionate people" (Evans,
1945:138). Schools were in session from eight to eleven in the morning and one to four in the
afternoon, six days a week, and for approximately 260 days out of the year (Zabriskie,
1918:190-191). All schools, including government approved schools were under the direction of
school boards, and their overall supervision and management was entrusted to a School
Director appointed by the Danish Crown. Mr. O. Rubner Petersen, the School Director in the
years before transfer, was instrumental in improving public education by opening up new
buildings and introducing new courses (De Booy and Faris, 1918). At the time of transfer there
were 3,500 students enrolled in all grades, and the Department of Education had a total budget
of U.S. $19,456 (Table 13). The language of instruction was English, teachers were primarily
local Virgin Islanders, with a few Danes in the St. Croix High School, and a few recruits from
the island of Antigua. There were numerous private schools, mostly church schools, on both St.
Thomas and St. Croix, with private school enrollment (1921) making up a third of total school
enrollment (Table 13). The children of the elite were often sent to schools in the United States,
or in the case of Danish officials, to Denmark.
To the newly arrived Navy Administration in 1917, one of the first tasksbefore them
was to "Americanize" the system of public education.17 Governor Oliver noted in his 1917
Annual Report that the "existing system of public instruction in these islands leaves about
everything in the way of an adequate system to be desired" (p. 13). Governor Oliver, and his
successor Governor Oman, set about revitalizing the education system. To this end, annual
appropriations were increased four to five fold, new school buildings were constructed and
existing structures renovated, new teachers were recruited and older teachers given refresher
courses, and teachers salaries were increased significantly.8 The American graded school
system was introduced (1920) with a curriculum based (inappropriately) on school systems in
Arizona and New Mexico, and a strong emphasis on vocational education (1920 Annual Report
of the Governor; Evans, 1945). That the latter would be emphasized, reflects perhaps, not only
the Naval Administration's prejudices, but also the then national education policy regarding
the education of "Negroes" (the "normal"/vocational school model), Indeed, a later (1929-30)
Bureau of Efficiency report recommended that the Senior High School be abolished and in its
stead an Agricultural and Vocational School be established so that the Virgin Islands would be
made self-supporting and young school leavers would be encouraged to stay at home, since there
would be jobs available for which they had trained. Given this reorientation, it was not
surprising that the Naval Administration did not push secondary education (the first high
school class graduated in 1931 and a tenth grade was only added in St. Croix in 1933). The
results of this were disastrous in terms of the educational standards of teachers -- the median
educational level of teachers in 1928 was the ninth grade (Boyer, 1983:122-123).
It was under Paul M. Pearson, the first civilian governor, that the much talked about
Vocational High School (St. Croix) got off the ground.19 But Pearson, the Quaker and educator,
went beyond this to formulate a plan for adult education, secure scholarships for Virgin Islands
teachers, investigate summer training sessions for teachers, procure hot lunches for public
school children, and generally foster cultural education, albeit of the mainland kind, (Evans,
1945; Boyer, 1983). Pearson's reforms were not paralleled by any other appointed governor, but
despite his efforts the educational system was plagued by the uneven quality of schools, a
phenomenon attributable largely to the municipal basis for funding public education,0 and the
continuing problem of inadequately trained teachers. Minimum requirements for teachers in the
1940s were a high school diploma and the equivalent of one year of teacher training for
permanent certification (Boyer, 1982), but these requirements were often waived as finding
adequate numbers of teachers was a perennial problem. In addition, the mindless reduplication
of a U.S. mainland curriculum often resulted in examples and lessons that were totally
inappropriate for Virgin Islands children.
In the 1950s education continued to languish, although enrollments increased because of
population growth, stretching the already thin resources, especially in the primary schools.
Many school facilities began to deteriorate because of inadequate funds for maintenance, and
Governor Gordon admitted at hearings before a House Subcommittee in 1956 that "there are
school buildings I have been in where the floors are so weak I am fearful the children will fall
through" (quoted in Boyer, 1983:220). Three reports on education in the Virgin Islands, the U.S.
Office of Education Report in 1950, the Robinson report of 1954, and the New York University
report of 1963, underscored the most salient perennial problems: poor salaries, low teacher
morale and a high turnover rate, inadequately trained teachers, deteriorating and
overcrowded schools, general disorganization in the Department of Education, misallocation of
funds, poor accounting procedures, and the intrusion of local politics (Lewis, 1972:75). Given the
dismal picture of public education portrayed in these reports, one can only conclude that the
Federal Government's commitment to education was largely rhetorical. It is not surprising,
therefore, that private school enrollment kept apace with public school enrollment (see Table
13). By 1960, private school enrollment accounted for 28 percent of total school enrollment
(down from 33 percent in 1921), and by 1970 this figure stood at 25 percent, where it has since
remained (Table 13).21
The 1960s growth decade placed enormous pressure on the educational system and
enrollments increased by 144 percent, outstripping population growth by 10 percent. Growth in
enrollments would have been even larger had it not been for regulations of the Department of
Education (see Boyer, 1985:295) that made it virtually impossible for children of non-
immigrant workers from the Eastern Caribbean to attend public schools. These regulations were
struck down by District Court Judge Almeric Christian in the case of Hosier vs. Evans. Judge
Christian wrote in his decision that the Department of Education's regulations imposed
"unreasonable and invidious discrimination on these plaintiffs and on all members of their class
and thus offends the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of
the United States" (Hosier v. Evans, 1970). In responding to the government's arguments that
admitting the children of non-immigrant workers into the already overburdened public schools
would render them "so chaotic as to totally destroy public education for all so entitled", Judge
Christian wrote that "fundamental rights... may be neither denied or abridged solely because
their implementation requires the expenditure of public funds" (Hosier v. Evans, 1970).
The Department of Education was totally unprepared to implement the Hosier v.
Evans decision, and they scrambled to expand classroom sizes and recruit teachers. The latter
was accomplished by expanding efforts to recruit trained teachers from the U. S. mainland,
thus expanding a practice (begun in 1962-63) that was to cause irreparable damage to the
system of public education. Mainland teachers were attracted to the islands by what Lewis
(1972:277) reports were "misleading, if not downright mendacious" recruiting tactics, and they
were quite ill prepared for the economic, racial-cultural and professional problems they
encountered. Consequently, turnover rates were alarmingly high, and each year saw frenzied
efforts to recruit still more mainland teachers to replace those not returning.
The current education situation is not measurably different from that of the 1960s or
early 1970s. Many teachers do not meet minimum certification requirements (500 at latest
estimate -- see Daily News, May 5, 1987), schools are in various states of disrepair, textbooks
are in short supply, and classrooms are overcrowded, with some schools being forced into double
shifts. If at all, the situation has probably worsened since 1970 as vandalism and violence
(unheard of in previous decades) has escalated in the schools. Recent enrollment data (1980-
1985) show enrollment peaking at 33,137 in 1983 but declining to 31,943 in 1985, and distributed
approximately 3.6:1 between public and private schools. Although education has long been
compulsory for children aged 5 to 16, the USVI has a particularly vexing dropout problem. A
study (Bliss, 1982) covering the 1962-1982 period uncovered a dropout rate (the percentage of
eight graders who discontinue school) of 27 percent in the territory--measurably higher for the
public schools (37 percent) than the private schools (5 percent). In fact, these dropout statistics
do indicate that the educational system has many parallels with that of the U. S. mainland -
- with lower and working class children (mostly black) crowded in public schools that are beset
by vandalism and disciplinary problems, and the children of the elite and upper middle class
(mostly white and brown) finding a better learning environment in private schools. With
respect to educational performance, the differences between the two systems are very apparent.
For example, in 1982 private school students, who comprised only 21 percent of the school
population, represented nearly 30 percent of the graduates (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1986).
Furthermore, 86 percent of these private school graduates were known to be college bound versus
29 percent of the public school graduates. In this.sense, one of the latent consequences of the
Americanization of the school system has been to spawn and entrench a dual educational
HEALTH AND SANITATION
Although the Virgin Islands were touted for the health giving qualities of their
climate (de Booy and Faris, 1918) the early part of this century found poor health conditions on
all three islands. Hospitals were overcrowded, nurses were in short supply, the few physicians
like Dr. Viggo Christensen and Dr. Knud-Hansen were extremely overworked, mosquitoes and
flies were abundant, drinking water was of poor quality, and raw sewage was discharged into
open drains in all three towns (Zabriskie, 1918; Knud-Hansen, 1947). Not surprisingly, the
average infant mortality rate during the late Danish period (1910-1917) was an appalling 320
deaths per 1000 live births, while the general mortality rate was in the low mid thirties (36.2
for the 1900-1909 period see Table 7), not particularly high for the times, but still high
enough to warrant a reassessment of the Danish system of health care.22
Drs. Christensen and Knud-Hansen battled against this high infant mortality on a
daily basis but as Dr. Knud-Hansen notes (1947:70) "with miserable sanitation, with no chance
of hospitalization, and with no nursing, we were beaten." The problem was that Denmark
simply did not commit enough resources to health care, even though the average annual
expenditures for health and sanitation approximated 19 percent of the budget in St.
Thomas/St. John and 25.5 percent in St. Croix for the period 1910-1917 (Evans, 1945:194).
In 1917, the first order of business for Admiral James Oliver, the first Naval Governor,
was to reorganize the entire health care system and begin to attack the problem of sanitation.
Workmen started in the hospital, knocked down the walls between all the two-
bedded cells, and made wards out of them. The American Red Cross furnished
the wards with almost everything needed in a one hundred bed hospital. The
operating room was refitted with modern operating table and instruments, and we
got a good sterilizing outfit. The building west of the entrance gate, formerly the
dwelling place of the hospital inspector, was made over into consulting rooms for
the out-patient department. The mental cases got wards in the back of the
hospital grounds, and the laundry found a new place from the center yard (Knud-
A program for training nurses was started in each hospital, increased attention was
given to maternal and child health, and venereal diseases which had been running rampant for
many years before transfer were brought under control (Knud-Hansen, 1947). The new Naval
Administration undertook a sanitary survey of Charlotte Amalie and improvements to the
water supply were begun (Annual Report of the Governor, 1919 and 1921). The upshot of all this
effort and increased expenditure (roughly 30-35 percent of average annual expenditures for
fiscal years 1918 to 1931 went to health and sanitation) was a rapid decline in both infant and
general mortality (see Table 14). Further improvements in public health were brought about by
the introduction of a comprehensive sanitary code which included the inspection of animals
slaughtered for food consumption, careful supervision of the food supply, monitoring the water
supply, proper disposal of night soil, a modern sewage disposal system, and a program of
mosquito control (Annual Report of the Governor 1928; Evans, 1945). All of these
accomplishments went a long way to improving the general living conditions on the islands. It
was not that the U. S. purchased a run-down, disease ridden Danish colony -- far from that,
since all accounts indicate that the towns were clean and well maintained (de Booy and Faris,
1918; Zabriskie, 1918) -- but it was simply that, with the decline of the mercantile emporium in
St. Thomas and sugar in St. Croix, Denmark seemed to have lost interest in her West Indian
possession. The Navy, with its technical expertise and with its doctors, engineers and
technicians, was able to provide just the kind of rehabilitation necessary -- improved medical
care, a sewage disposal system, and a new water supply system.
Later civilian governors were unable to maintain the same level of Naval efficiency in
the areas of public health and sanitation, and in the 1930s mosquitoes became a big problem
(dengue fever was quite common and there was a malaria epidemic in 1932), but Governor
Pearson did wage a fairly successful campaign of mosquito eradication. Every year, however,
saw some general improvement in the health of the population, with the death rate beginning
to decline markedly in the 1950s and 1960s (Table 14), to its current low of between 5 and 6 per
Contemporary health care in the USVI is arguably adequate, and the Territory has
some very fine new health facilities. However, the administration of these facilities has been
hampered by shortages of trained staff, staff turnover, inadequate medical supplies, a poor
equipment and general maintenance program, and the intrusion of politics. In addition, many
health professionals attached to the hospitals have failed to' meet certification requirements,
thus adding to the generally poor image of local health care in the population at large. The
unfortunate consequence of all this is that the health-seeking behavior of Virgin Islanders has
not changed despite the new hospitals, and those who can afford it, or have adequate medical
insurance, continue to seek health care in Puerto Rico and the continental U.S. Critical care in
many areas is still not being provided and the practice of sending critical care patients to Puerto
The economy of the Virgin Islands in 1917 can be best described as listless. With the
decline of sugar in the late nineteenth century and the phasing out of St. Thomas' role as a major
transshipment center for goods destined to the Lesser Antilles, there was very little Denmark
could do to reverse the downward spiral. A Commission sent out in 1902 to investigate and
report on the situation recommended increases in taxes, cuts in spending, land tenure reforms,
encouragement of private enterprise, new investment, reform of the banking system, and
renewed commitment to agriculture, and although some of these measures were put into effect,
they could not stem the economic decline (Evans, 1945). A new Commission in 1916 concluded
that the islands were a major burden on the Danish treasury, and despite various attempts to
make them self-supporting they would no longer pay their way. The decision to sell the
islands to the U.S. was therefore largely economic, and the U.S. interest in them must be seen
in geopolitical terms, Secretary of State Lansing's arguments regarding the commercial
importance of the Danish West Indies notwithstanding. It is therefore not surprising that the
U.S. did very little initially to rehabilitate the economy, and despite fairly heavy federal
spending on public works, sanitation and health (areas where gains could be made fairly
quickly), the USVI at the end of the Navy's stewardship were "what they had been for many
years, a land and a people so firmly caught in the grip of economic forces" that they could only
carry on with outside aid (Evans, 1945:2).
Towards the end of the Naval period the U.S. Congress requested the Bureau of
Efficiency to investigate conditions in the islands. The Bureau's Chief, Herbert D. Brown,
proposed a major program of rehabilitation, which had as it cornerstone a homestead project
whereby large estates would be purchased, broken up, and divided into small plots for resale to
small would be farmers.23 The program also advocated tourist promotion, infrastructure
projects (the development of the St. Thomas harbor), domestic agriculture and handicrafts,
improvements in the bay rum industry and a revival of sugar (Evans, 1945; Boyer, 1983). This
new experiment was entrusted to Governor Pearson, and although the governor and his
administrators proceeded with great energy to promote basket weaving and needle work
cooperatives, provide seeds, cuttings and garden plots, plant trees and so on, the experiment was
premised on the same false notion as the 1902 Danish Commission report, that is, all that was
needed was a critical quantum of resources to propel the Virgin Islands economy across the
threshold into its own pattern of self-sustained growth (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1984:48).
But more money, more laws, and even the purchase of Bluebeard's Castle for a hotel project, and
Lindberg Bay, Whim and LaGrande Princesse estates for homesteading, did not provide the
needed impetus.24 Although some observers (Evans, 1945:313-315) attempted to place the
blame on the character of Virgin Islands people (their "unwillingness to work" and their
"inefficiency") and on "misguided labor leaders and politicians," what most observers failed to
realize was that USVI development problems were not internal and that the territorial
economy was not a sui generis system functioning in relative isolation from the mainland
economy. To expect a small, resource poor group of islands, whose people had few technological
skills (given the Danish orientation towards education) to achieve self-sufficiency as measured
by mainland standards, was sheer folly. Yet this was a reoccurring theme emanating out of
As one of his last acts, Governor Pearson pushed for the establishment of a corporation
that would manage the homestead experiment and revive the rum industry. Thus the Virgin
Islands Company (VICO) was born and it received an initial grant of $1 million plus other
federal funds. VICO's successes were few, despite federal allocations of nearly $3.5 million.
Succeeding Governors saw it as standing between the people and destitution (Boyer, 1983:172-
175). VICO gave way to VICORP, but even the redirection into electricity production and
promoting local business did not lead to the promised self-sufficiency, and federal subsidies
In the 1940s and 1950s the federal government proceeded, undaunted by previous
failure, to push for self-sufficiency, and while the policies varied (civil service reform, specific
grants-in-aid to overcome problems and bottlenecks, fiscal austerity, etc.) from one governor and
federal administration to another, the deficits continued, and along with them, dependence on
the federal government. No attempts at long range planning were evident and no attempts were
made to meliorate the effects of national economic policy on the Virgin Islands economy.
In the 1960s the long awaited economic turn around finally arrived due to a fortuitous
combination of both external and internal factors. The former included the U.S. embargo of
Cuba, which diverted U.S. tourists and capital to the islands, the advent of jet aircraft, which
reduced travel time from the mainland, and an elastic low-cost labor supply from the nearby
Leeward and Windward Islands. The internal factors involved the "aggressive
implementation of a broad array of growth policies by local officials," namely, the phase-out
of commercial sugar production, the creation of an industrial incentive program, and most
importantly, aggressive lobbying in Washington (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1984:50). In
point of fact, it was massive federal spending that helped underwrite the costly infrastructure
program necessary to support the large-scale modernization of the USVI economy in the 1960s.
The economy responded by growing at a phenomenal rate. Gross territorial product
adjusted for inflation grew 10 percent per year; per capital personal income increased four-fold;
tax revenues rose over seven times; the stock of housing more than doubled; and electricity and
water consumption rose an average of 20 percent per year (de Albuquerque and McElroy,
During the 1970s economic activity stagnated due to periodic U.S. recessions and an
unprecedented insular inflation rate (10 percent per annum between 1970 and 1978). The U. S.
Congress and the Federal Government responded to the escalating territorial deficits by
stressing fiscal responsibility. In 1978, the economy took an upturn and except for some flat
years (1981 and 1982) has posted moderate gains, with noticeable increases in per capital income
and retail sales (Virgin Islands Department of Commerce, 1986). Since 1984, the visitor
industry has shown renewed vigor and a number of new hotels have been completed, expanding
significantly the tourist plant. Real estate values and rentals have soared to dizzying
heights, creating some serious problems regarding housing the territory's generally underpaid
(by U.S. mainland standards) workforce. Despite the buoyant economy, the accumulated
deficit at the end of 1986 amounted to an estimated $70 million (Dail News January 13,1987).
The fiscal picture has shown some improvement in 1987, with revenues up by $44.6 million for
the first seven months of fiscal year 1987 (Daily News June 4, 1987). However, the Government
is still saddled by debt, including an estimated $41 million owed workers in retroactive salary
In 1917 the Virgin Islands labor force constituted roughly 17,000 persons. The 1917
census enumerated a population of 14,590 persons 10 years old and over, engaged in "gainful
occupations" (1917 U.S. Census of Population :75). A breakdown of the employed population by
sex and age shows a sizeable number (3.6 percent) of children between the ages of 10 to 15, and a
considerable percentage of women (45.6 percent), among gainful workers. In fact, female
participation in gainful employment in 1917 was at a level that has not been paralleled since,
and although some of it can be explained by the out-migration of males in certain working age
groups (25-29), female labor, especially in the loading and unloading of coal, must have been
highly prized. Most of the employment in 1917 was provided by agriculture (41.7 percent),
followed by services (26.0 percent), and then manufacturing and construction (19.2 percent).
Subsequent years saw some notable declines in certain employment indicators, namely
employed persons as a percent of the total population and employed females as a percent of all
females (Table 17). The former declined from a high of 56.0 percent in 1917 to 33.0 percent in
1985, raising some questions as to the definition of gainful workers in 1917. The latter declined
from a high of 57.6 percent in 1917 to 30.2 percent in 1950, but with the modernization of the
USVI economy and the attendant expanded employment opportunities, female employment is
now back to 1917 levels. Employment by industry shows some interesting changes in the 68 year
period (Table 17) and captures very appropriately the changing economic fortunes of the
islands. Employment in agriculture declined from a high of 41.7 percent in 1917 to a low of
about 1 percent today. Manufacturing employment remained below 20 percent but then took off
in the 1960s with the Hess Oil and Harvey Alumina complexes and with the enormous growth
in tourism and related construction. The closing of the alumina complex and the loss of some
industry account for employment declines in manufacturing in the 1980s. Since 1985, construction
activity has picked up due to a new wave of hotel, condominium and private home building.
Remarkable growth has occurred in trade and finance and in services, reflecting the renewed
growth in tourism, a growth that began in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Little is known about tourism in the Danish West Indies, but given the facilities
available to accommodate visitors in 1917 (2 hotels in St. Thomas with a total of 45 rooms) one
can conclude that it was only the very intrepid tourist that made his/her way to the Virgin
Islands. It is surprising, therefore, to find in De Booy and Faris' (1918) book a chapter entitled
"Hints for the Tourist", and while the chapter gives some idea of suitable clothing and how
best to get to the Virgin Islands, it makes no mention of numbers of tourists. The only inkling one
gets that tourism was a regular feature of winter months is in references made to a number of
boarding houses on St. Thomas (apart from the two hotels), a boarding house in an old historic
estate house in Leinster Bay, St. John, a small bungalow in Cruz Bay suitable for 2 to 3 guests,
and good boarding houses in both Christiansted and Frederiksted. Given the time it took to get
to the Virgin Islands (7 days from New York) and De Booy and Faris (1918) suggest that most
tourists came from New York via Puerto Rico one can safely assume that tourists came for
extended periods of time and often for the duration of the winter season. Affirmation of this is
provided by the fact that the Grand Hotel had a monthly tariff ($25 to $40 in 1916-1917) for
which could be obtained "comfortable living quarters, good service and splendid table board"
The early Naval Administration made very little attempt to promote tourism, being
content with those technical/engineering accomplishments the Armed Services do best --
improving the water supply, constructing new roads and resurfacing old ones, and rebuilding and
re-equipping the hospital. Nevertheless, Naval Governor Waldo Evans noted that a 1924
local survey of economic conditions in the Virgin Islands recommended, among other things,
that the Virgin Islands undertake an advertising campaign to lure visitors in the hopes that
some visitors "may see advantages for investment of capital and stimulation of industry"
(Annual Report of the Governor, 1928:62). The Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor
was charged with promoting tourism, and to this end it organized a yearly tourist exhibit on St.
Thomas. Governor Evans noted that this exhibit was viewed by thousands of visitors who
frequented St. Thomas during the months of December to March. The organization of the St.
Thomas Chamber of Commerce on January 12, 1927, provided the needed impetus to interest
local and outside capital in plans for a large modern tourist hotel. But these plans did not come
to fruition and in 1930 the Bureau of Efficiency, as part of a set of recommendations to improve
the Virgin Islands economy, advocated the expansion of the tourist trade, first, by remodeling
the Grand Hotel, and when that suggestion proved unworkable, then by constructing a new
hotel on a more favorable site (Evans, 1945:284). It was left up to Governor Pearson to push the
latter, and despite local opposition, he had a new hotel built on Bluebeards Hill using monies
out of the rehabilitation and PWA funds. During his tenure as Governor, the number of visiting
ships carrying tourists greatly increased, from 6 in 1930-31, to 16 in 1934-35 (Annual Report of
the Governor, 1940).
Bluebeard's Castle Hotel (constructed in 1932) assisted materially in the development
of the tourist and winter resident trade. A handicraft cooperative, developed in 1932 to make
items for sale to tourists, saw its sales increase from $5,712 in 1932 to $45,394 in 1939 (Annual
Report of the Governor, 1940). The number of shops catering especially to tourists also
increased in the 1930s, and they benefited from the Danish tariff law of 1914, which was still
in effect, that levied only an ad valorem tax of 6 percent on all goods entering the USVI.
Tourists from the mainland were allowed to bring back up $100 worth of low rate duty goods
plus one gallon of alcoholic spirits. Efforts by the government and the private sector (St.
Thomas Tourist Development Board) to develop the tourist trade were especially evident
between 1935-1940. These included recommendations for a cottage hotel development on one of
the beaches in St. Thomas and for the establishment of a national recreational area on St. John.
Indeed, a bill (HR 9621) was introduced in the 76th Congress to provide for the establishment of
the St. John Island National Recreation Area, but it was not acted upon. Nineteen forty saw the
Grand Hotel under new management and Hotel 1829 under reconstruction. It also saw the
beginning of an attractive cottage development at Caneel Bay, that would later serve as the
nucleus for Laurance Rockefeller's "unique" resort "where a few of the well-connected rich could
relax in surroundings of expensive simplicity" (O'Neill, 1972:140). Towards the end of the
1940s tourism had accelerated on St. Thomas, some of it undoubtedly attracted by the liberal
divorce laws designed specifically for that purpose (see Orlins, 1969). Eighty six more hotel
rooms were added and at least 400 more were on the drawing board (Annual Report of the
Governor, 1949). There was greater publicity and awareness (on the U.S. mainland) of the
Virgin Islands as a winter resort, encouraged in part, by the St. Thomas Tourist Development
Board's unique picture book.25 The Board appointed a full time Director in 1949 and began to
expand its activities, one of which included a novel program of instruction of taxi drivers in
local history/folklore. So successful was the government-private sector partnership that
Governor Hastie was to write that the "development of tourism is now and in prospects the
largest factor in the improvement of the local economy" (Annual Report of the Governor,
By the early 1950s the USVI had acquired the reputation as a playground for well-
heeled tourist/winter residents, and as word spread about this "American Riviera", and as the
number of continentals trying their luck at tourist related enterprises increased, the stage was
set for the beginnings of mass tourism (Harman, 1961). Between 1950-59 the number of air
arrivals (the majority being tourists) increased from 12,650 to 107,400, and cruise ship visitors
went from 7,692 to 37,000 (see Table 17). The facilities to accommodate these visitors also
increased dramatically -- from 820 tourist beds in fiscal year 1950 to 2,578 beds in fiscal year
1958 (Orlins, 1969:104). When the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1960, droves
of American tourists turned to the Virgin Islands as an alternate Caribbean destination. They
found favorable conditions; relatively easy access from New York or Miami, duty free
shopping, a fairly well developed tourist plant with three luxury hotels (Bluebeard's Castle,
Caneel Bay, and the Virgin Isle), and the American flag and currency. Air arrivals and cruise
ship visitors increased significantly in 1961 and 1962 (see Table 18), and with the arrival (on
St. Croix) of the first Pan Am jet flight in 1962, the Virgin Islands entered a new tourism era.
The following winter saw an almost 30 percent increase in air arrivals, spurred on by the advent
of jet transportation. All in all, the 1960s decade witnessed a six fold increase in air arrivals
and a five fold increase in cruise ship arrivals (Table 18). To meet this increased demand the
number of hotel rooms more than doubled (from 1397 to 3258) between 1960 and 1969 (McElroy
and Tinsley, 1982).
In the 1970s air arrivals stabilized at between 600,000 and 700,000 with some declines
in the mid 1970s and two bumper years in 1978 and 1979, while the number of cruise ship visitors
continued upward. St. Croix witnessed a major decline in tourism following the Fountain Valley
incident, with hotel occupancy rates dipping as low as 38 percent in 1973 and 1974. Air arrivals
declined substantially in the early 1980s but have picked up since 1984 and appear to be headed
towards the 1979 all time high of 826,813 (Table 18). Cruise ship visitors made up for declining
air arrivals in 1980 and 1981 and are currently near the 800,000 mark. With a relatively
buoyant mainland economy, and the government's renewed commitment to tourism, it is not
surprising that the number of hotels, condominiums and tourist related enterprises have
increased significantly since 1983, in some cases (St. John) doubling the tourist plant. Tourist
arrivals for the 1987 winter season (January to April) were up 22.5 percent for air arrivals and
24 percent for cruise ship arrivals over the 1986 season (Daily News, June 13, 1987), and it
appears that the tourist industry is once again poised for a major growth period, especially on
St. Croix. The pace and character of the new developments and the accompanying in-migration
of continental businessmen, professionals, construction workers and restaurant workers, has once
again raised questions about the dominance of the tourism sector by outsiders who are less
sensitive to the adverse impacts of tourism on the environment, the infrastructure, and on social
and cultural traditions. Current debate centers around the twenty or so projects (the majority on
St. Croix) planned for the already stressed first and second tiers of the coastal zone, the realty
inflation these projects will bring, and the problems of beach access, erosion, and the
employment and training of locals.
During the last years of Danish sovereignty, average annual expenditures and revenues
continued their decline, suggesting less of a financial commitment on the part of Denmark as
local deficits mounted. Revenues were derived primarily through a series of indirect taxes --
customs dues, import and export duties, ship's dues, stamp dues, excise duty on rum, and a
variety of fees levied for services. Direct taxes (ground and building tax, house tax, trade tax,
lamp tax, horse, carriage and boat tax) contributed approximately 29 percent of total revenues
to the Municipality of St. Thomas/St. John and only 19 percent to the Municipality of St. Croix.
Expenditures were concentrated primarily on health and sanitation (25.5 percent of the
expenditures on St. Croix and 19 percent on St. Thomas/St. John), police and prisons, and to a
lesser extent on public education and public works. Annual deficits for the period 1910-17
averaged 9 percent of annual expenditures on St. Thomas/St. John and 10 percent on St. Croix.
Deficits were attributable to the decline of trading activity on St. Thomas and to poor rainfall
and depressed sugar prices on St. Croix (Evans, 1945).
The flurry of activity that followed transfer marked a new philosophy of colonial
government (Evans, 1945), and was concentrated in three areas: health and sanitation, public
works, and education. Average annual expenditures in these three areas tripled and
quadrupled and local government expenditures across the board almost doubled. Revenues,
however, remained static or even declined (see Table 15). Since revenues were derived from an
odd combination of old Danish levies, federal taxes and new taxes imposed by local
authorities, the question of tax reform was raised frequently. A joint Congressional Commission
in 1920 described the tax laws as "inadequate, inefficient and unjust" and concluded that the
American system of taxation would make the islands self-supporting in a matter of years
(Evans, 1945). The Commission singled out the practice of not taxing unused land and pointed to
the unfair low valuations of property. Both of these practices allowed large estates to remain
unproductive, and yet intact, since there was very little financial pressure to break up large
Throughout the Naval period expenditures exceeded revenues (Table 15) and the
deficits had to be made up through Federal appropriations and grants-in-aid. Raising revenues
became one of the major preoccupations of later civilian governors, and despite numerous tax
reforms, some of them hotly contested by local landowners, deficits continued to mount.26 It was
only with the economic turn-around in the 1960s that healthy surpluses began to appear. Since
the 1970s when the government instituted a balanced budget requirement, the operating budget
has roughly paralleled local revenue performance. Some changes have occurred over the 70
year period in terms of source of revenues and distribution of expenses. For the period 1918-1931
the major expenses were on health, public works, and education (in that order). Today, these
three areas still account for a disproportionate share of the operating budget, although the
order is now reversed. Revenues for the period 1918-1931 were derived primarily from income
taxes and real property taxes, and while this is also true of the 1980s, other sources of revenue
(rum excise taxes returned to the Virgin Islands, gross receipts taxes, and corporate income
taxes) have superseded real property taxes in importance.
In the 1980s the Territory's fiscal imbalance has become progressively worse, with an
operating deficit of $7 million in 1982, $15 million in 1983, $37 million in 1984, and an
estimated $72 million in 1986 (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1986). To minimize these chronic
short falls the government has borrowed from the retirement system, the health fund system,
and from capital funds and bonds. The Virgin Islands government is currently considering a
deficit elimination act that would include a reduction in the number of paid holidays and a 10
percent surcharge on all income taxes.
A seventy year retrospective of the annual financial condition of the Virgin Islands,
would confirm even the mildest perennial Federal charges of lack of accountability and
misallocation of funds. The Naval Administration and the early civilian governments were
relatively free of charges of gross misuse of federal and other funds, but with Governor Archie
Alexander, a kleptocratic pattern was established whereby people in government were
expected to afford themselves of the spoils high office so temptingly offered. Governor
Alexander was charged with spending government funds illegally for travel and entertainment
of friends and cronies, misusing funds earmarked for other purposes, entering into excessive and
ridiculous contracts, bringing in a retinue of friends to the islands as highly paid consultants,
and allowing officials appointed by him to misuse and abscond with government property
(Boyer, 1983:229-230). Similar charges have been made with great regularity of a number of
appointed and elected officials, but the abuses continue. Not a year goes by that audits or the
Comptrollers "Annual Report on the Financial Condition of the Virgin Islands" do not turn up
some irregularities or wrong doing on the part of an agency or an official, and while this is
played in the local media for weeks and people express outrage, very few individuals have
ever been charged or convicted. One Virgin Islands Senator, known for her energy in exposing
corruption in high places, observed the following in an interview with William Boyer
There is no place in the world where there is so much waste, misuse, and abuse of
government funds, as there is under this canopy of heaven. The government
officials of the Virgin Islands seem to believe there is a bottomless well in
Washington and that the money in that well can never dry up.
As small, resource scarce islands, the Virgin Islands long recognized the importance of
external trade. St. Thomas, because of its location, served during the early part of this century
as a distribution center for goods from the United States and Europe destined to other Caribbean
islands and to the northern ports of South America (Zabriskie, 1918:88). Before steamships
came to dominate commercial shipping, the commerce through St. Thomas amounted to over a
million dollars annually and completely dwarfed local economic activity. At the time of
transfer, St. Croix figured in only very marginally in the external trade of the Virgin Islands.
These patterns continued until the 1960s when crude petroleum and bauxite products (to and
from St. Croix) began to completely dominate the level and behavior of external trade. In 1980,
for example, these two products accounted for 95 percent of the total combined value of exports
and imports ($9.2 billion). When petroleum and bauxite products are excluded from the trade
data, then imports (mainly from the U.S.) make up approximately 80 percent of the total trade
(de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1984).
The transfer of political sovereignty in 1917 simply ratified what had long been an
economic reality, namely, that the Virgin Islands for all intents and purposes were/are a part
of the U.S. economic orbit. Data for the period preceding transfer and immediately after
transfer, clearly show the U.S. as the Virgin Islands principal trading partner (Table 19)
accounting for 86 percent of all exports and between 48 to 90 percent of all imports. Dependence
on the mainland economy increased during the Naval period and it was not until the 1950s and
the expansion of tourism, that the percentage of imports from foreign sources began a steady
increase to its current levels (45 percent of all imports in 1985 were from foreign sources). Exports
to the U.S. currently account for 97 percent of all exports. Major trading partners (besides the
U.S.) in 1917 were other West Indian Islands, Great Britain, Germany and Denmark, while in
1985 they were Japan, France, West Germany, and Great Britain.
Exports in 1917 (primarily to the U.S.) consisted of sugar, rum, bay rum and hides and
skins. With the demise of sugar in the early 1930s exports took a nose dive and it was only with
the revival of rum in the late 1930s that exports picked up. Rum exports have shown a steady
increase between 1960 and 1980, with some annual fluctuations (Virgin Islands Department of
Commerce, Economic Review, 4th Quarter 1977). Over 85 percent of the Virgin Islands non-
petroleum/alumina exports go to the U.S. mainland. Besides rum, these exports include
watches, pharmaceuticals, textiles, jewelry, and perfume/cosmetics. Rum and watches make
up by far the two most important non-petroleum/alumina exports.
In 1917 the major imports consisted of food and spirits, durable goods, construction
material, and some light machinery. Food imports dominated the import structure, but with
the diversification of the economy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, food imports as a
percentage of total imports declined. Since 1970, the proportion of food in the total import bill
has risen steadily (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1983). One study noted that between 1970 and
1977 food costs escalated faster than the level of local prices and incomes (Virgin Islands
Department of Commerce, Economic Review, 4th Quarter 1977). The dependence on imported
food has continued to increase in recent years, and currently food imports make up a quarter of
the total import bill. Other items (excluding bauxite and oil) that dominate imports, include
motor vehicles, various tourist-related gift/liquor merchandise, and construction materials (de
Albuquerque and McElroy, 1984).
As a U.S. territory the USVI has historically participated in a variety of Federal
programs. In addition, it has received annually a large inflow of appropriations from various
agencies, funds for specific projects, as well as grants-in-aid. It's difficult to determine
precisely total annual Federal expenditures in the Virgin Islands, but if the partial data in
Table 15 are any indication, then Evans (1945:137) is correct in his assessment of the USVI as
the most "heavily subsidized of any comparable colonial possession." The USVI has also been
the most heavily subsidized on a per capital basis of any state/territory in the U.S. In 1980, for
example, per capital Federal aid to the Virgin Islands amounted to $3,049 as compared to the
District of Columbia a distant second at $2,095, and the Pacific Territories, fourth at a paltry
Federal appropriations have risen phenomenally, from less than one million dollars
annually for the period from 1917 to 1955 to approximately $600 million in 1985 (Table 15).
Appropriations increased over ten fold during the decade of the 1960s and skyrocketed during
the 1970s. The 1980s has shown no sign of any decline in Federal spending and grants-in-aid to
the Virgin Islands, although there has been consistent talk in Washington about making the
territories more self-sufficient. In fact, the Congress of the United States, through the Office of
Technology Assessment has devised all kinds of strategies, on paper, for sustainable
development in the Virgin Islands and its Pacific Territories (Office of Technology Assessment,
The irony is that for decades the Federal Government has been talking about self-
sufficiency and fiscal austerity in the Virgin Islands, while all the time opening up its coffers
to the tune of billions of dollars.27 The unfortunate consequence of this beneficence has been a
kind of unhealthy dependence on Washington, and an attitude that no matter how wretched
the fiscal condition of the islands, the Federal Government will always be there to bale the
Virgin Islands out, or there will be some unexpected windfall to tide the Government over until
the next crisis.
Transportation and Communication
In 1917 there were approximately four miles of adequate carriage roads in St. Thomas.
The only usable road for vehicular and carriage traffic was from Charlotte Amalie to Brewer's
Bay. There was a "road" between Charlotte Amalie and Smith Bay, but as Zabriskie (1918)
noted, it went over "stiff hills" and required a "strong horse." St. Croix, by contrast, had a 100
miles of good roads, with many of them macadamized (De Booy and Farris, 1918), and 22
registered automobiles. The roads were kept in "splendid condition" and there were no "bad
roads anywhere" (Zabriskie, 1918). St. John had only bridle paths, and no motor car or carriage
The early Naval Administration began in earnest a program of cutting new roads and
building up and regrading existing roads on St. Thomas. By 1921, a road had been laid to
Mosquito Bay, the road around Mafolie estate and from Louisenhoj to town had been build up
and regraded, the old road from Tutu to Mandahl and Lovelund had been cleared and graded for
automobile and truck traffic, the Tutu to Coki point road had been built up and repaired, and
the road along Long Bay was widened and built up (Annual Report of the Governor, 1924).
Subsequently, Congress authorized several appropriations for the construction and maintenance
of roads on St. Thomas and St. John.
Currently there are 600 miles of roads on the three islands: approximately 282 miles on
St. Thomas, 264 miles on St. Croix and 54 miles on St. John.
The number of motor vehicles has increased dramatically from the 22 recorded in 1917.
In 1949, for example, there were 1,471 licensed motor vehicles, and Governor de Castro noted
that "the number of motor vehicles is increasing every year, and tends to complicate the
regulation and control of traffic, especially in the narrow streets of Charlotte Amalie "(Annual
Report of the Governor, 1950). Vehicular traffic accidents, especially on the steep and narrow
roads of St. Thomas, were a problem as early as the 1940s, necessitating the organization (1948)
of a Traffic Bureau within the Police Department. In 1949, there were 242 vehicular accidents
resulting in injury to 75 persons. By 1960, the number of registered motor vehicles stood at 4,264,
but it more than quadrupled during the 1960s growth period, and then doubled during the
decade of the 1970s (Table 16 ). In 1985, there were 43,901 registered motor vehicles on Virgin
Islands roads, creating, especially on St. Thomas, a dire need for improvement in traffic
management and in mass transit to alleviate daily rush hour traffic jams. The eventual
solution is, of course, a moratorium on private automobiles, but this is fraught with serious
political and social implications.
Shipping was historically the principal business of St. Thomas, but with the demise of
sailing ships, and later coal-burning ships, which frequented the harbor for refueling and to
rendezvous for sailing orders, the St. Thomas harbor fell into difficult times. World War II
saw an increase in naval activity, but a corresponding decline in cruise ship and merchant ship
visits. It was only with the enormous spurt in economic activity in the 1960s that shipping
began to revive, as infrastructure projects, new industries, and the construction boom, required a
considerable amount of movement of goods.
The Virgin Islands dependence on external .trade has made the expansion and
maintenance of harbor facilities a particular concern. In 1917, Governor Admiral Oliver
determined that shipping facilities were adequate, and any improvements (dredging in
Christiansted) could be postponed until warranted. The facilities at the time consisted of six
docks in the St. Thomas harbor, including the 3,000 foot pier of the West India Company, each
accommodating vessels drawing up to 31 feet. In addition, there was a floating dry dock with a
maximum lifting capacity of 3,000 tons (De Booy and Faris, 1918:267). At Frederiksted, there
was an open roadstead and goods had to be lightered ashore. The Christiansted Harbor was
small, with a tortuous shallow entry channel, often necessitating the lightering of freight from
larger vessels. Numerous shipping lines (Hamburg-American Line, East Asiatic Co.,
Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, Quebec Steamships Co., Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.,
Dutch West India Mail, etc.) called into St. Thomas and St. Croix (to a lesser extent)
frequently. In addition, there were weekly sailing services to Fajardo and San Juan, as well as
inter-island schooners plying, with freight and passengers, between St. Thomas and St. John
and St. Thomas and St. Croix.
In 1920 Congress recognized the need for more adequate shipping and for direct
passenger and freight service from the Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland. To this end, the
Virgin Islands was exempted from the coast wise Shipping Act (Title 46, Section 877) making it
possible for foreign flag vessels to operate between the U.S. mainland and Virgin Islands
Port facilities were not significantly expanded until World War II when the U.S.
Navy built temporary facilities for the berthing of light submarines in St. Thomas. Despite
the temporary nature of the facilities at Sub Base, they were continued in use long after the
Navy abandoned them (1967). A 1970 study on 'The U.S. Virgin Islands and the Sea" (Office
of the Governor of the Virgin Island) noted that St. Thomas was in danger of losing its position
as the premiere port of call for cruise ships in the Caribbean, because of its overcrowded port
facilities, which made it necessary for many cruise ships to anchor outside the harbor and
tender their passengers to shore.
In the 1970s the Virgin Islands Port Authority concentrated its efforts in improving
cruise ship facilities at the West India Dock, providing a dock at Sub Base for a fifth cruise
ship, and improving freight facilities at the Crown Bay pier. Gallows Bay Port in
Christiansted was expanded to handle three freight vessels and two barges at any one time and
the Frederiksted pier was extended to accommodate 2 cruise ships. The 1980s have seen some
significant improvements to the Sub Base facilities, including a new cruise ship dock.
Air transportation came to St. Thomas in 1930 in the form of a 4 passenger Pan Am, sea
plane, which made the southbound trip from San Juan to St. Thomas and beyond on Tuesdays,
and the northbound trip from St. Thomas to San Juan on Saturdays (Annual Report of the
Governor, 1940). In San Juan, passengers transferred to a larger plane (10-12 passengers) for the
long trip to the United States mainland. By the late 1930s, American Caribbean Airways had
joined Pan Am and was making triweekly runs between Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix.
The two airfields -- Bourne Field in St. Thomas and Benedict Field in St. Croix since
renamed were established by the U.S. Navy during World War II and were operated and
maintained by the Navy until December 1947, when they were transferred to the Virgin Islands
Government (Dookhan, 1974:304). In this same year, the Annual Report of the Governor (1947)
notes that excellent air services (2 flights daily) were being provided by Pan Am and Caribbean
Atlantic Airways between San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Croix. These two airlines continued to
serve the Virgin Islands from San Juan through the 1950s and into the early 1960s. Pan Am
began direct service to St. Croix in June 1962 and to St. Thomas in 1966, after the runway had
been lengthened to accommodate jets. Direct service from Miami was later added and other
airlines began to service the Virgin Islands. The two airports, Cyril E. King on St. Thomas and
Alexander Hamilton on St. Croix, have undergone considerable improvements over the years,
and much delayed work is currently in progress on a major upgrading of the St. Thomas airport
and modernization of both facilities.
At the time of transfer there was, according to Zabriskie (1918:152), ample telephone
service on the islands, with a private system on St. Thomas and a local government operated
system on St. Croix. The Navy described these systems as inadequate but did very little to
upgrade them. In 1929, the St. Thomas Municipal Telephone Services had 282 subscribers and
309 telephones in use (Annual Report of the Governor, 1930). Radio telephone service between
St. Thomas and the continental United States was inaugurated in 1947, but apart from this,
very few improvements were made to the telephone system. In 1959, Governor John D. Merwin,
the first native born Governor, was to write that the Virgin Islands telephone system is
"outmoded, outdated, and inadequate" (Annual Report of the Governor, 1959:2). At this time
there were a total of 2,421 subscribers and 3,112 telephones. The economic boom of the 1960s
created considerable pressure for improved communications, and although the telephone system
continued to be plagued by service problems, the number of telephones increased from 3,705 in
1960 to 22,506 in 1970. This number has continued to increase rapidly, and in 1985, there were
52,314 telephones in operation, approximately one telephone for every two residents.
The Virgin Islands were better served by newspapers in 1917, there being two daily
newspapers (Lightbourn's Mail Notes and The Bulletin) and one semi-weekly news sheet (St.
Thomae Tidende) in St. Thomas and three daily papers (West End News The Herald and the
St. Croix Avis) in St. Croix (Zabriskie, 1918). Although circulation figures are not available,
circulation must have been adequate given the number of papers supported by the population, 75
percent of which (10 years and older) were literate (1917 U.S. Census of Population). While
not interfering with the newspapers per se, the Naval Administration and later civilian
administrations did very little to encourage newspapers, as they often proved to be training
grounds for Virgin Islands nationalists and political leaders (e.g. D. Hamilton Jackson, Earle
B. Ottley, J. Antonio Jarvis). By the early 1940s the Daily News was the only paper on St.
Thomas until Randolph and Earle Ottley established the Photo News in 1945 (Ottley, 1982).
Despite the occasional competition from "new" newspapers, only two papers have
managed to survive in the Virgin Islands the St. Croix Avis. published since 1844, and the
Virgin Islands (St. Thomas) Daily News, published since 1930: The latter was purchased from
the Melchior family in the early 1980s by the Gannett chain, making the St. Croix Avis the
only locally owned paper in the islands.
TOUAL POJULMATION OF THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
BY ISIAND: 1773-1982
Virgin Islands St. Croix St. John St. Thamas
Year Total Population Total Population Total Population Total Population
N % Clange N % Change N % Change N % Change
1773 28,582 21,809 2,402 4,371
1796 35,657 24.8 28,803 24.3 2,120 11.7 4,734 8.3
1835 43,178 21.1 26,681 7.4 2,475 16.7 14,022 196.2
1841 40,995 -5.1 25,624 -4.0 2,555 3.2 12,776 -9.8
1846 39,588 -3.4 24,065 -6.1 2,450 -4.1 13,073 2.3
1850 39,614 .1 23,720 -1.4 2,228 -9.1 13,666 4.5
1855 37,137 -6.7 22,802 -3.9 1,715 -23.0 12,560 -8.1
1860 38,231 3.2 23,194 1.7 1,574 -8.2 13,463 7.2
1870 37,821 -1.1 22,760 -1.9 1,054 -33.0 14,007 3.9
1880 32,763 -13.4 18,430 -19.0 994 -5.7 14,389 2.7
1890 32,786 .1 19,783 7.3 984 -1.0 12,019 -16.5
1901 30,527 -6.9 18,590 -6.0 925 -6.0 11,012 -8.4
1911 27,086 -12.7 15,467 -16.8 941 1.7 10,678 -3.0
1917 26,051 -3.8 14,901 -3.7 959 1.9 10,191 -4.6
1930 22,012 -18.3 11,413 -23.4 765 -20.2 9,834 -3.5
1940 24,889 11.6 12,902 13.0 722 -5.6 11,265 14.6
1950 26,665 6.7 12,103 -6.2 749 3.7 13,813 22.6
1960 32,099 20.4 14,973 23.7 925 23.5 16,201 17.3
1970 75,151 134.1 35,942 140.0 1,924 108.0 37,285 130.1
1980 96,569 28.5 49,725 38.3 2,472 28.5 44,372 19.0
1981 98,300 1.8 55,800 2.2 2,480 -.3 45,020 1.5
1982 101,500 3.3 52,200 3.0 2,490 .4 46,710 3.8
1983 103,700 2.2 53,800 2.9 2,590 4.0 47,310 1.3
1984 107,500 3.7 55,000 2.2 2,680 3.5 49,820 5.3
1985 110,800 3.1 55,300 .5 2,840 6.0 52,660 5.7
SOURCES: 1. 1773 and 1796 from Westergaard,
2. 1835 to 1980 from U.S. Censuses
of Population for the Virgin Islands of the
3. 1981-1985, U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Indicators, Office of Policy Planning
and Research, V.I. Department of Cmmerce, 1986.
TOTAL POPULATION FOR TOWNS AND RURAL AREAS IN
THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
By Island: 1835-1980
Island/Area Census Year
1835 1855 1880 1901 1917 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980
Virgin Islands 43,178 37,137 33,763 30,527 26,051 22,021 24,889 26,665 32,099 75,151 96,569
Urban 19,194 19,378 20,183 17,768 15,465 13,501 14,296 15,581 18,017 29,862 37,730
Rural 23,984 17,759 13,580 12,759 10,586 8,511 10,593 11,084 14,082 45,289 58,839
St. Croix 26,081 22,862 18,430 18,590 14,901 11,413 12,902 12,103 14,973 35,9421 49,725
Christiansted 5,806 5,260 4,939 5,483 4,574 3,767 4,495 4,112 5,137 3,020 2,904
Frederiksted 2,317 2,957 3,480 3,745 3,144 2,698 2,498 1,961 2,177 1,531 1,046
Rural 18,558 14,645 10,011 9,362 7,183 4,948 8,407 7,991 9,836 28,759 _40,310
St. Thomas 14,022 12,560 14,389 11,012 10,191 9,834 11,265 13,813 16,201 37,2851 44,3721
Charlotte 11,071 11,161 11,764 8,540 7,747 7,036 9,801 11,469 12,880 15,9772 19,3042
Rural 2,951 1,399 2,625 2,472 2,444 2,798 1,464 2,344 3,321 14,862 16,057
St. John 2,475 1,715 944 925 959 765 722 749 925 1,924 2,472
Rural 2,475 1,715 944 925 959 765 722 749 925 1,924 2,472
1917-1980 U. S. Censuses of population
McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1981
for the Virgin Islands of the United States
NOTES: 1Population of towns and rural areas do not add up to total island population because
peri-urban areas and new urban areas were not included.
2These are adjusted figures. Census estimates for Charlotte Amalie (with the town's
boundaries being very narrowly defined) in 1970 and 1980 were 12,220 and 11,671
POUIATION DISTRIBUTION FOR URBAN AND RURAL AREAS IN THE
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS BY ISLAND: 1917-19801
CENSUS DATA ADJUSTED DATA3
St. Thomas St. Croix St. John2 St. Thomas St. Croix St. John
Year %U. % R. % % R. % U. % R. %U. % R. % U. % R. % U. % R.
1917 76.0 24.0 51.8 48.2 0.0 100.0 76.0 24.0 51.8 48.2 80.0 20.0
1930 71.5 28.5 56.6 43.4 0.0 100.0 71.5 28.5 56.6 43.4 72.9 27.1
1940 87.0 13.0 34.8 65.2 0.0 100.0 87.0 13.0 54.2 45.8 80.2 19.8
1950 83.0 17.0 34.0 66.0 0.0 100.0 83.0 17.0 50.2 49.8 78.0 22.0
1960 79.5 20.5 34.3 65.7 0.0 100.0 79.5 20.5 48.8 51.2 92.9 7.1
1970 42.9 57.1 10.2 89.8 0.0 100.0 60.1 39.9 15.6 84.4 96.2 3.8
1980 63.8 25.2 18.9 81.1 0.0 100.0 -
SOURCES: 1917-1980 U.S. Censuses of Population
for the Virgin Islands of the United
NOTES: 1Urban includes Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas and Christiansted and
Frederiksted in St. Croix. After 1930 Frederiksted is counted as rural
because its population fell below 2,500, the U.S. Census Bureau's
threshold for urban classification. In 1980, Tutu in St. Thomas was
classified as urban.
2There is no urban area on St. John which has 2,500 inhabitants or
3The adjusted data, which include all traditionally recognized island
urban areas, assume that the numerical threshold of 2,500 does not
adequately capture an urban milieu in an insular microstate.
POPULATION DENSITY FOR THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
BY ISLAND: 1917-19851
Island Area2 Year
1917 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1985
Virgin Island 197 167 189 202 243 569 732 815
St. croix 177 136 154 144 178 428 592 658
St. Thomas 318 307 352 432 506 1165 1387 1646
St. John 48 34 36 38 46 96 124 142
SOURCES: 1917 to 1980 U.S. Censuses of Population for the Virgin Islands
of the United States. 1985 U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Indicators,
Office of Policy Planning and Research, V.I. Department of Commerce, 1986.
NOTES: 1Density figures are per square mile
2St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John are 84, 32 and 20 square miles
respectively. Densities for St. Thomas should be actually higher since
the official area of 32 square miles includes several offshore
PERCENT DISTRIIIBION OF THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
POPULATION BY AGE:
Age Group 1917 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980
Under 5 9.5 10.3 12.2 14.5 15.4 13.2 11.1
5-14 19.7 21.7 19.9 24.6 24.4 22.4 24.9
15-24 17.9 15.8 18.7 14.7 16.0 18.0 17.4
25-44 28.7 24.2 24.0 23.5 22.0 29.6 28.3
45-64 17.1 20.5 18.0 15.2 15.3 13.0 13.7
65+ 7.1 7.5 7.2 7.5 6.9 3.8 4.6
TOTAL 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Under 15 29.2 32.0 32.1 40.1 39.8 35.6 36.0
15-64 63.7 60.5 60.7 53.4 53.3 60.6 59.4
25-64 45.8 44.7 42.0 38.7 37.3 42.6 42.0
Median Age 26.0 25.8 23.6 22.0 21.4 23.0 22.4
SOURCES: 1917 to 1980 U.S. Censuses of Population for the Virgin Islands
of the United States.
THE SEX COMPOSITION OF THE POPULATION OF
THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS: 1917-1980
SOURCES: 1917 to 1980 U.S. Censuses of Population for the Virgin Islands
of the United States.
CRUDE BIRTH, DEATH AND INFANT MDRTAITY RATES1 FOR THE
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS: 1900-1981
Year/Period Crude Birth Rate Crude Death Rate Infant Mortality Rate
1900-1909 31.8 36.2 NA
1910-1919 28.2 32.2 320.04
1920-1929 24.6 23.0 183.85
1930-1939 29.1 21.3 126.3
1940-1949 36.12 17.33 100.7
1950-1959 32.8 11.5 50.6
1960-1969 38.3 8.4 31.8
1970-1979 31.7 5.9 23.7
1980 26.4 5.6 24.7
1981 24.9 5.4 21.7
SOURCES: 1. 1900-1909 1917 U. S. Census of Population in the Virgin Islands of the
2. 1910-1919 1928 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
3. 1920-1939 1940 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
4. 1940-1949 The Virgin Islands of the United States, Information
Transmitted to the United Nations, Department of Interior, 1947 and 1950
Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
5. 1950-1981 Bureau of Vital Records and Statistical Services, Virgin
Islands Department of Health.
NOTES: 1Rates are per 1,000 population
2Does not include 1947
3Does not include 1946 and 1947
RACE OR COLOR1 IN THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS BY ISLAND: 1917-1980
ISLAND AND RACE YEAR
OR COLOR 1917 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980
N % N % N % N % N % N % N %
Black 6,595 64.7 6,998 71.2 7,245 64.3 10,278 74.4 11,995 74.0 NA NA 35,641 80.3
White 1,293 12.7 1,578 16.0 1,785 15.9 2,241 16.2 2,923 18.1 NA NA 7,330 16.5
Mixed & Other2 2,303 22.6 1,258 12.8 2,235 19.8 1,294 9.4 1,283 7.9 NA NA 1,401 3.2
Total 10,191 100.1 9,834 100.0 11,265 100.0 13,813 100.0 16,201 100.0 NA NA 44,372 100.0
Black 12,238 82.1 9,592 84.1 9,381 72.7 7,573 62.6 7,825 52.3 NA NA 39,515 79.5
White 625 4.2 414 3.6 438 3.4 681 5.6 2,353 15.7 NA NA 6,299 12.6
Mixed & Other 2,038 13.7 1,407 12.3 3,083 23.9 3,849 31.8 4,795 32.0 NA NA 3,911 7.9
Total 14,901 100.0 11,413 100.0 12,902 100.0 12,103 100.0 14,973 100.0 NA NA 49,725 100.0
Black 601 72.0 653 85.3 550 76.2 710 94.8 814 88.0 NA NA 1,795 72.6
White 4 .4 18 2.4 13 1.8 23 3.1 97 10.5 NA NA 651 26.3
Mixed & Other 265 27.6 94 12.3 159 22.0 16 2.1 97 10.5 NA NA 26 1.1
Total 959 100.0 765 100.0 722 100.0 749 100.0 925 100.0 NA NA 2,472 100.0
Black 19,523 74.9 17,243 78.3 17,176 69.0 18,561 69.6 20,634 64.3 45,309 72.5 76,951 79.7
White 1,922 7.4 2,010 9.1 2,236 9.0 2,945 11.0 5,373 16.7 11,339 18.2 14,280 14.8
Mixed & Other 4,606 17.7 2,759 12.6 5,477 22.0 5,159 19.4 6,092 19.0 5,820 9.3 5,338 5.5
Total 26,051 100.0 22,012 100.0 24,889 100.0 26,665 100.0 32,099 100.0 62,468 100.0 96,569 100.0
SOURCES: 1917-1980 U. S. Census of Population for the Virgin Islands of the United States.
NOTES: 1In the 1917 to 1970 censuses race or color was determined
color was arrived at through self-identification.
by census enumerators.
In the 1980 census race or
2The category of mixed and other includes all persons of mixed black and other (white and nonwhite) parentage,
POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
BY PLACE-OF BIRTH: 1917-1980
Place of Birth YEAR
1917 1930 1960 1970 1980
N % N % N % N % N %
U.S. Virgin Islands
British West Indies/
Trinidad & Tobago
All Other Countries
4,267 16.4 3,8012
12.9 14,424 23.5 26,410 28.8
SOURCES: 1917 to 1980
U. S. Censuses of population for the Virgin Islands of the United States.
NOTES: 1Includes Jamaica and the Bahamas.
2Includes other Caribbean.
3Includes other Europe.
4Does not include a substantial number of person whose place was
not reported (5,365 persons in 1980).
SELECTED AGRICULTURAL INDICES U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS 1917-1982
1917 1930 1960 1975 1982
No. of farms 430 329 501 327 303
% Land in farms 82.4 80.5 51.9 29.1 24.6
Acreage in farms 69,892 68,322 44,062 24,703 20,824
Average farm size (acres) 162.5 207.7 87.9 75.5 68.7
% Agricultural employment 41.7 33.2 7.2 0.5 0.5
Harvested cropland (acres) NR 6,895 4,272 751 819
Harvested cropland/Total acres NR 10.1 9.7 3.0 3.9
Land in pasture/Total acres NR NR 48.8 62.6 76.8
% Farms with tractors 2.4 6.0 13.1 18.2
% Farms with hired labor 68.1 55.3 30.3 33.9 27.7
% Farms purch. livestock/poultry feed 21.9 19.1 24.8 67.3 70.0
% Farms using fertilizer 6.0 2.4 11.6 19.9 21.8
% Operators with agriculture as main
Occupation NR 67.0 NA 35.5 43.6
% Operators working 200 + days off farm NR NR 46.5 34.3 45.5
% Operators who are farm owners 29.5 44.3 77.0 85.9 80.2
% Operators 10 years or more on farm 38.4 41.6 56.9 58.1 60.4
% Operators 2-4 years on farm 26.3 NR 20.8 17.7 15.5
SOURCES: 1. U.S. Census of the Population for the Virgin Islands, 1930, 1960, 1970, 1980.
2. U.S. Census of Agriculture for the Virgin Islands, 1930, 1960, 1975, 1982.
Bureau of the Census, Washington.
DISTRIBUTION OF FARM SIZE AND ACREAGE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: 1917-1982
Farm Size 1917 1930 1960 1975 1982
(acres) % total % total % total % total % total % total % total % total % total 1% total
farms acres farms acres farms acres farms acres farms acres
Under 3 1.0 2.4 0.1 11.1 0.2 33.3 0.5 24.8 0.6
3-9 57.9 1.0 34.6 0.8 39.7 2.5 28.7 2.1 37.6 2.9
10-19 4.4 0.4 10.3 0.7 17.4 2.7 10.7 1.8 10.7 2.0
20-49 4.2 0.9 10.5 1.5 11.4 4.2 10.1 3.8 11.2 5.0
50-99 4.4 1.9 4.6 1.4 8.4 6.6 5.8 5.7 5.9 5.7
100-174 4.0 3.5 4.3 2.8 3.6 5.5 4.0 6.4 4.0 .6.9
175-259 30.2 8.9 9.6 2.0 4.7 2.1 6.2 1.6 5.4
260-499 15.1 30.2 11.6 20.2 2.6 10.9 2.4 12.2 2.0 11.0
500-999 6.3 26.8 8.5 29.3 2.0 15.8 0.9 7.9 1.3 14.7
1000 and over 3.7 35.4 4.3 33.6 1.8 46.9 1.8 53.3 0.9 45.8
Totally 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Under 10 57.9 1.0 37.0 0.9 50.8 2.7 62.0 2.6 62.4 3.5
Under 50 66.5 2.3 57.8 3.1 79.6 9.6 82.8 8.2 84.3 10.5
Under 100 70.9 4.2 62.4 4.5 88.0 16.2 88.6 13.9 90.2 16.2
100-499 19.1 33.7 24.8 32.6 8.2 21.1 8.5 24.8 7.6 23.3
500 and over 10.0 62.2 12.8 62.9 3.8 62.7 2.7 61.2 2.2 60.5
1930, 1960, 1975 and.1982. Bureau of the Census, Washington.
1May not sum exactly because of rounding error.
Census of Aariculture for the Virain Islands.
-~-~ -I--- -- -~'---~--~-- --- --~-
SELECTED ACREAGE AND AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
U. S. VIRGIN ISLANDS 1917-1982
Acreage/Products 1917 1930 1960 1975 1982
Sugar cane (acres) 8,685 5,823 3,676 4 3
Sorghum (acres) 3,531 403
Selected field crops (acres 1 263 68 98 29 46
Selected vegetables (acres) 1684 48 32 36 43
Selected fruits/nuts harvested:
Avocados NA 14,700 37,945 16,561 31,874
Coconuts 12,180 27,008 26,107 46,376 18,066
Bananas (bunches) 818 6,790 20,539 4,785 11,532
Grapefruits (Ibs.) 960 1,280 1,375 9,750 4,615
Limes/Lemons (Ibs.) NA 11,640 29,860 35,009 12,472
Oranges (Ibs.) 9,480 3,840 3,758 21,055 6,246
Plantains (bunches) NA 823 401 284 950
Pineapples 300 2,404 1,407 596 74
Mangoes 2,750 407,683 173,457 217,807 209,845
Sheep 1,046 1,533 2,152 3,122 2,882
Goats 1,584 1,476 2,334 4,162 4,035
Hogs 2,145 860 1,297 1,454 2,404
Cattle 12,187 12,252 8,383 6,106 5,672
Chickens sold NA 2,817 3,860 8,669 20,071
Eggs sold (doz.) NA 4,353 92,050 315,023 284,107
Milk-sold (qts) NA 1,237,454 565,781 3,126,063 1,858,145
iCorn, dry beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, tanias, yams.
2Carrots, okra, onions, peppers, egg plant, squash, tomatoes, green beans, celery.
3Sweet potatoes, cassava, tanias and yams are excluded.
4Includes all vegetables.
EDUCATION STATISTICS, 1916 TO 1985 (SELECTED YEARS)
Enrollment Public Schools
Fiscal Year Private Public Total Employed Budget
1916 -- 3,771 20 19,456
1921 1,316 2,671 3,987 91 77,335
1922 1,332 2,977 4,309 107 105,272
1923 1,222 3,174 4,396 115 97,426
1924 1,265 3,153 4,418 118 106,712
1925 1,249 3,161 4,410 120 96,452
1926 1,162 3,107 4,269 113 93,085
1927 1,164 3,083 4,247 112 86,868
1928 1,131 2,919 4,050 116 90,476
1929 1,090 2,950 4,040 114 1,935
1930 1,077 3,061 4,138 113 98,790
1931 1,106 3,132 4,238 111 97,192
1932 1,179 3,228 4,4201 120 103,651
1933 1,208 3,411 4,649 125 16,801
1934 1,202 3,485 4,721 124 108,085
1935 1,203 3,460 4,692 125 112,789
1936 1,308 3,244 4,576 117 98,961
1937 1,370 3,249 4,642 121 109,113
1938 1,377 3,374 4,773 122 111,677
1939 1,300 3,519 4,819 126 115,957
1940 1,395 3,552 4,947 130 119,798
1947 1,947 4,194 6,141 160 305,264
1949 1,936 4,401 6,337 156 431,570
1955 2,207 5,639 7,846 184 2,105,233
1959 2,355 6,466 8,821 228 1,540,727
1960 2,666 6,767 9,433 -- --
1965 NA 9,399 NA 696 7,172,468
1970 5,712 17,289 23,001 -- 15,176,304
1975 6,364 24,512 30,876 --
1980 -- -- 32,721 -- 41,500.00
1985 -- 31,943 1,700
SOURCES: 1916-1940 1940 Annual Report of the Governor
1947 1947 Annual Report of the Governor
1949 1949 Annual Report of the Governor
1955 1955 Annual Report of the Governor
1959 1959 Annual Report of the Governor
1960-1975 1978 Virgin Islands Department of Commerce, Comparative
Growth Statistics and Turnbull, 1976
1980, 1985 1986 Virgin Islands Department of Commerce, Economic Ii
NOTE: 1Total. enrollment for 1932 to 1938 includes enrollment in the vocational
school and agriculture station.
CRUDE BIRTH, DEATH AND INFANT MORTALITY RATES1 FOR THE
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS: 1900-1981
Year/Period Crude Birth Rate Crude Death Rate Infant Mortality Rate
1900-1909 31.8 36.2 NA
1910-1919 28.2 32.2 320.04
1920-1929 24.6 23.0 183.85
1930-1939 29.1 21.3 126.3
1940-1949 36.12 17.33 100.7
1950-1959 32.8 11.5 50.6
1960-1969 38.3 8.4 31.8
1970-1979 31.7 5.9 23.7
1980 26.4 5.6 24.7
1981 24.9 5.4 21.7
SOURCES: 1. 1900-1909 1917 U. S. Census of Population in the Virgin Islands of
the United States.
2. 1910-1919 1928 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
3. 1920-1939 1940 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
4. 1940-1949 The Virgin Islands of the United States, Information
Transmitted to the United Nations, Department of Interior, 1947 and
1950 Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands.
5. 1950-1981 Bureau of Vital Records and Statistical Services, Virgin
Islands Department of Health.
NOTES: 1Rates are per 1,000 population
2Does not include 1947
3Does not include 1946 and 1947
MAJOR UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS ECONOMIC INDICATORS (1), 1917-1985
Per Capita Total Total Balance of Deficit/ Federal
GTP2 GTP Exports(E) Imports (I) Trade Revenues (R) Expenditures Surplus Appropriation3
Year1 ($ mill.) ($) ($ mill.) ($ mill.) (E-I) ($ 000) ($ 000) (R-E) ($ mill)
1917 NA NA 1.2 1.9 -.7 2504 2594 -9 .1
1922 NA NA .9 2.3 -1.4 391 514 -123 .3
1925 NA NA .7 1.9 -1.2 233 670 -437 .3
1930 NA NA .8 2.3 -1.5 265 435 -170 .3
1935 NA NA .6 2.5 -1.9 296 478 -182 .3
1940 NA NA 1.7 3.5 -1.8 409 547 -139 .2
1945 NA NA 4.4 5.3 -.9 1,773 1,742 +31 .3
1950 NA NA 3.9 11.0 7.1 1,241 2,056 -815 .5
1955 NA NA 4.1 16.3 -12.2 7,502 NA .6
1960 25.0 779 8.4 42.3 -33.9 12,967 7,122 +5,845 1.7
1965 68.7 1,381 36.9 118.7 -81.8 30,119 33,717 +3,598 2.2
1970 242.3 3,224 262.0 400.6 -138.6 79,971 64,856 +15,115 27.1
1975 295.7 3,445 1,934.5 2,196.2 -261.7 112,784 122,123 -9,339 195.1
1980 780.9 8,086 4,950.1 4,315.1 -635.0 190,580 174,076 +17,139 295.8
1985 1,030.0 9,296 3,357.1 3,740.6 -383.5 248,453 263,347 +14,894 594.0
SOURCES: 1. Evans, 1945
2. 1917-1950 Annual
Report of the Governor
3. Office of Policy Planning and Research, USVI Department of Commerce
Comparative Growth Statistics, 1976 and 1978, USVI Growth Statistics,
1980 and 1981, and USVI Economic Indicators, 1986. Orlins, 1969
4. U.S. Department of Treasury, Federal Aid to States
NOTES: 1Data for 1917 to 1930 are for fiscal year.
2Gross territorial product.
3From 1917 to 1945 includes only direct Federal aid, after 1945, includes grants-in-aid,
salaries, payments to individuals, procurements and the transfer. This excludes, however,
several categories of federal spending.
4These are average annual figures from 1910 to 1917.
MAJOR UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS ECONOMIC INDICATORS
Per Capita Electricity Value of No. of No. of Registered
Income ($) Produced Construction Business Telephones Motor
Year (KWH-Mill.)1 Permits ($ Mill.) Licenses Vehicles
SOURCES: Office of Policy Planning and Research, USVI Department of Commerce-Comparative
Growth Statistics, 1976 and 1978, U.S.V.I. Growth Statistics, 1981, and U.S.V.I.
Economic Indicators, 1985.
NOTE: 1Only electricity consumption data are available from 1982 onwards.
SELECTED EMPLOYMENT INDICATORS FOR THE
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: 1917-1985
1917 1930 1950 1960 1970 1980 1985
Employed persons as %
of total population
% Unemployed (16 yrs+)
Employed persons as %
of population 16 yrs+
Employed males as %
of males 16 yrs+
Employed females as %
of all females 16 yrs+
% Employment by Industry:
Manufact. and Cons.2
Transp. and Comm.3
Trade and Finance4
39.3 37.0 33.4
62.9 60.2 49.1
78.6 75.4 NA
47.2 54.5 NA
25.4 19.1 12.1
21.2 24.1 26.6
43.0 45.8 54.3
SOURCES: 1917-1980 U.S. Census of population for the Virgin Islands of the
United States. 1985 Virgin Islands Bureau of Labor Statistics.
NOTES: includes fishing
includes public utilities
includes wholesale and retail trade, finance, insurance and real estate
includes public administration
610 years +
714 years +
8Data for 1985 not strictly comparable because of different (BLS)
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS TOURISM INDICATORS
Air Cruisship Total Estimated Tourist
Year ArrivalsI No. of Calls Visitors Arrivals Expenditures ($ mill.)
1917 3,000 NA
1922 5 NA NA
1930 6 NA NA
1935 16 NA NA
1939 24 11,715 NA NA
1946 14,494 4 1,267 15,761 NA
1950 12,650 15 7,692 20,342 1.8
1951 39,333 7 3,124 42,457 2.3
1952 40,718 12 5,293 46,011 4.1
1953 44,094 20 12,300 56,394 5.0
1954 45,795 30 13,323 59,118 5.2
1955 54,864 33 16,000 70,864 9.2
1956 63,000 36 18,500 81,500 11.7
1957 76,200 48 22,035 98,235 13.2
1958 85,800 74 35,420 121,220 16.1
1959 107,400 89 37,000 144,400 21.7
1960 124,400 126 49,700 174,100 24.8
1961 146,600 167 57,000 203,600 25.8
1962 187,712 131 57,368 245,080 35.1
1963 215,809 169 64,239 280,048 41.1
1964 285,610 261 110,625 396,235 48.2
1965 354,644 238 109,341 463,985 54.0
1966 436,775 255 117,659 554,434 NA
1967 516,295 296 .133,357 649,652 NA
1968 771,991 376 172,912 944,903 NA
1969 743,970 523 233,973 977,943 NA
1970 572,8762 502 255,957 828,833 129.6
1971 518,616 517 306,201 824,817 91.1
1972 550,093 727 403,833 953,926 155.3
1973 491,748 961 535,535 1,027,283 151.0
1974 433,572 804 471,264 904,836 149.5
1975 417,494 722 451,403 868,897 165.7
1976 421,367 758 487,623 908,990 181.8
1977 460,871 758 514,795 975,666 210.5
1978 548,999 767 548,228 1,097,227 196.3
1979 619,984 821 602,944 1,222,928 299.1
1980 525,908 894 691,383 1,217,291 304.3
1981 475,389 858 695,220 1,170,609 317.5
1982 469,887 750 586,190 1,056,077 318.7
1983 475,030 715 633,760 1,108,790 356.1
1984 501,900 789 657,640 1,159,540 440.1
1985 541,640 790 678,946 1,220,586 531.5
SOURCES: 1. 1940 and 1950 Annual Report of the Governor
2. Orlins, 1969
3. McElroy and Tinsley, 1982:29
4. Office of Policy Planning and Research, USVI Department of Commerce 49
Comparative Growth Statistics, 1976 and 1978; USVI Growth Statistics,
1980 and 1981; USVI Economic Indicators, 1986.
NOTES: 1Includes all air arrivals, including returning residents, until 1969.
2From 1970 onwards, air arrival figures are estimates of total visitor arrivals
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS THEN AND NOW:
SOME ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INDICATORS
INDICATORS THEN NOW
Total Exports (US $ Million)
Exports to U.S. as %
of all exports
Total Imports (U.S. $ Million)1
Imports from U.S. as %
of all imports
Major Trading Partners2
Total Revenues (US $) 3
Total Expenses (US $)3
Real Property Taxes (% of
Income Taxes (% of total Revenues)3
Police and Prisons
Dept. of Health
Dept. of Public Welfare
Dept. of Education
Public Works and Fire
All Others 10.2
Dept. of Law 2.7
Public Safety/ 7.9
Dept. of Health 12.2
Social Welfare 4.4
Dept. of Ed. 23.9
Public Works 15.7
All Others 18.2
TABLE 19 (Cont'd)
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS THEN AND NOW
SOME ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INDICATORS
INDICATORS THEN NOW
Federal Expenditures3 $ 13.99 (1920-21)b $ 5,361 (1985)b
Band Deposits (US $)5 497,837 (1917) 1,303,800.000 (1984)
Territorial Govt. Employees6 576 (1930) 12,900 (1985)
Registered Vehicles2 24 (1916) 43,901 (1985)
Tourist Arrivals2 3000? (1917) 1,315,586 (1985)
No. of Hotel Rooms7 45 (1917) 3,541 (1985)
No. of Hospital Beds8 291 (1917) 506 (1983)c
No. of Physicians9 9 (1917) 141 (1983)
Newspapers7 Liqhtbourns Mail Notes (1917) The Daily News (1987)
The Bulletin St. Croix Avis
St. Thomas Tidende Tradewinds
West End News
St. Croix Avis
SOURCES: 1. 1900-1910 and 1917-1926 General Report by the Governor, 1928.
1985 USVI Economic Indicators.
2. 1916-1917 Zabriskie (1918); 1985 USVI Economic Indicators.
3. 1910-1017 and 1918-1931 Evans (1945): 1985 USVI Economic Indicators.
4. 1918-1931 Evans (1945); 1980-USVI Annual Economic Review, 1980.
5. 1917 General Report by the Governor, 1928; 1985-USVI Economic Indicators.
6. 1930 General Report by the Governor, 1928; 1985 USVI Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7. 1917 DeBooy and Faris (1918); 1985 USVI Economic Indicators. 51
8. 1917 Zabriskie (1918); 1983 de Albuquerque (1983).
9. 1917 Knud-Hasen (1947); 1983 de Albuquerque (1983).
I FOOTNOTES I
1. Boyer (1982, 1983), for example, argues that the Danish West Indies were purchased
solely for their strategic value as a naval base.
2. Although these accounts and reports are somewhat ethnocentric and tinged with racial
prejudice, .hey do provide some interesting detail that is verifiable by examining at
census and other data.
3. Civil registration of vital events was rather incomplete during Danish times, and it is
probably correct to assume that there was greater under-reporting of deaths than
4. Boyer (1983:165) notes that there were an estimated 20,000 Virgin Islanders residing in
New York City by 1930.
5. These conditions included, pronounced increase in maritime activity and tourism in St.
Thomas and a much needed rehabilitation of the sugar industry on St. Croix.
6. Between 1933-1940, cane planting increased by 2,000 acres (Annual Report of the
7. The introduction of steamships at the turn of the century severely curtailed St. Thomas'
role as a major transhipment port for goods destined to the Lesser Antilles and South
8. McElroy and de Albuquerque (1981:293-294) suggest the involvement of the following
factors: (i) the general affluence, in varying degrees, created in the sixties and early
seventies; (ii) the desire for single family residences and the peace and quiet of
suburban living; (iii) a strong demand for retirement homes, second residences and
condominiums; (iv) government policy to deglomerate the central business districts; (v)
the ubiquitous presence of the automobile; and (vi) government sponsored road building
9. In the 1980 census, closely settled population centers without corporate limits were
named "census designated places." Three such places were identified on St. Thomas
(Anna's Retreat, Charlotte Amalie East and Charlotte Amalie West) and two on St.
Croix (Frederiksted Southeast and Grove Place).
10. This aging was primarily the result of differential mortality (high infant and child
mortality) and age selectivity in out-migration.
11. The sex ratio at all ages in 1980 was 91.7, slightly less than the sex ratio at all ages for
the U.S. but somewhat comparable to other small islands in the Eastern Caribbean.
12. Such remarkably low rates are the result of a combination of a healthy climate,
adequate health care, and a youthful population. With the renewed aging of the
population, the death rates should rise very gradually but still remain very much
lower than continental United States levels.
13. Dr. Knud-Hansen (1947) estimated that the infant mortality rate in St. Thomas was
200 at the time of transfer, while Zabriskie (1918) indicates it was 197. It is obvious
therefore, that infant mortality was much higher on St. Croix and possibly St. John.
14. St. John was described by De Booy and Faris (1918) as the "Cinderella of the Virgin
Islands." Life was quiet and healthful, the scenery was magnificent and the people
were much too fond of their island to seek employment elsewhere.
15. Unused land was not subject to taxation, a policy designed specifically to serve the
interests of large estate owners.
16. As it becomes more and more difficult to earn a livelihood from agriculture, there is an
increasing emphasis on off-farm labor and consequently a redirection of effort into the
kind of cultivation (fruit trees) and livestock production (goats) that requires fewer
17. The process included renaming many public schools after U.S. Presidents, the
introduction of U.S. textbooks, and the singing of the national anthem.
18. Even though salaries were increased to an average of $30 a month and a high of $75 a
month, teachers continued to leave the profession because of low salaries (Annual
Report of the Governor, 1920).
19. In the late, 1920s, the vocational school concept was the cornerstone of U.S. educational
policy in the Virgin Islands since it was felt that the "negroes" needed to learn how to
use their hands because that was the best route to self-sufficiency for the islands. In its
first year of operation (1932) the vocational school enrolled 13 students, and by 1933
this number had more than doubled to 30.
20. St. Croix lagged behind St. Thomas in terms of funding public education, resulting in
there being fewer schools on St. Croix. For example, in 1947, of the 33 public schools in
the USVI, only 9 were on St. Croix (Boyer, 1983:208).
21. The 3 percent decline in private school enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment in
the decade of the 1960s is difficult to explain, especially, given the pressures placed on
private schools by non-immigrant workers whose children were denied access to Virgin
Islands public schools.
22. In 1916, the infant mortality rate for the black population in the Continental United
States was 185 (Bureau of Census, 1979). Infant mortality rates in some Caribbean
islands for the year 1900 to 1904 were as follows: Barbados, 282; Dominica, 185; St.
Kitts, 247; Nevis, 197; Trinidad, 162 (Richardson, 1985).
23. Luther Evans (1945:277-280) notes that Naval Governor Waldo Evans opposed the
Bureau of Efficiency's homesteading plan, arguing that if the estates were bought up
and turned over to colored people "they would make a mess of it as they are not
qualified to handle such affairs independently."
24. The homesteading project was generally considered a failure, even though the number
of small farmers increased initially. Reasons for the project's failure were twofold.
First, a fairly small amount of land was actually purchased as there was no incentive
(either through taxation or other mechanisms) for large land owners to break up their
estates. Second, only a fraction of the land that was purchased was homesteaded and
these homesteads were too small to be economically viable (Annual Report of the
Governor, 1940; Boyer, 1983).
25. Twenty-five thousand copies of the tourist brochure were printed up and distributed to
travel agents, airlines and steamship companies.
26. In only one or two years between 1917 and 1960 did the Government show a surplus.
27. This federal largesse was/is partly the result of the indefatigable efforts of the Virgin
Islands Representative to Congress (Ron de Lugo) and the help of many congressional
friends of the Virgin Islands, who enjoy their periodic visits and the lavish
hospitality of the Virgin Islands Government.
28. The Act authorized only American flag vessels to move freight and passengers between
Annual Report of the Governor of the Virgin Islands
1917-1930 Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
1931-1959 Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
1982 "A Study of Public and Private School Drop-Outs in the U.S. Virgin Islands." St.
Thomas: Caribbean Research Institute, College of the Virgin Islands.
Boyer, William W.
Civil Liberties in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 1917-1949. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands:
Antilles Graphic Arts,
1983 America's Virgin Islands: A History of Human Rights and Wrongs. Durham,
North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.
de Albuquerque, Klaus
1984 "A Comparative Analysis of Violent Crime in the Caribbean." Social and
Economic Studies 33:93-142.
de Albuquerque, Klaus and Jerome L. McElroy
1982 "West Indian Migration to the United States Virgin Islands: Demographic
Impacts and Socioeconomic Consequences." International Migration Review 16:61-101.
"Agricultural Resurgence in the United States Virgin Islands." Caribbean
'The United States Virgin Islands." Pp. 812-824 in Jack W. Hopkins (ed.), Latin
America and Caribbean Contemporary Record, Volume II: 1982-83. New York: Holmes.
"Race and Ethnicity in the United States Virgin Islands: 1917-1980." Ethnic
de Booy, Theodoor and John T. Faris
1918 The Virgin Islands: Our New Possessions and the British Islands. Philadelphia:
J.B. Lippincott Co.
1974 A History of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Epping, Essex, England:
Booker Publishing Co.
Evans, Luther Harris
1945 The Virgin Islands: From Naval Base to New Deal. Ann Arbor, Michigan: J.W.
Harman, Jeanne P.
1961 The Virgins: Magic Islands. New York: Appleton-Century.
Hosier v. Evans
314 F. Supp. 316.
1947 From Denmark to the Virgin Islands. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company.
Lewis, Gordon K.
1972 The Virgin Islands, A Caribbean Lilliput. Evanston: Northwestern University
McElroy, Jerome L. and Klaus de Albuquerque
1981 "Residential Patterns in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 1917-1976." South Atlantic
Urban Studies 5:287-303.
1984 "Federal Perceptions and Policy Versus Virgin Islands Reality." The Review of
Regional Studies 14:47-55.
1985 "Small-Scale Agriculture in the United States Virgin Islands, 1930-1983." Pp. 17-
22 in Small Farm Systems in the Caribbean, Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual
Meeting of the Caribbean Food Crops Society, Eastern Caribbean Center, College of the
1986 "United States Virgin Islands." Pp. 818-825 in Jack W. Hopkins (ed.), Latin
America and Caribbean Contemznporary Record. Volume IV: 1 984-85. New York:
Holmes and Meier.
McElroy, Jerome L. and John F. Tinsley
1982 "United States Virgin Islands." Pp. 23-65 in Shirley B. Seward and Bernard K.
Spinrad (eds.), Tourism in the Caribbean: The Economic Impact. Ottawa, Canada:
International Development Research Centre.
Office of the Governor of the Virgin Islands
1970 The U.S. Virgin Islands and the Sea. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas:
1917 Letter to Secretary of the Navy, August 1.
O'Neill, Edward A.
1972 Rape of the Virgin Islands. New York: Praeger Publishers.
Orlins, Martin G.
1969 The Impact of Tourism on the Virgin Islands of the United States. Department
of Geography, Columbia University, Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation.
Office of Technology Assessment
1987 Integrated Renewable Resources Management for U.S. Insular Areas.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Ottley, Earle B.
1982 Trials and Triumphs. Charlotte Amalie,;St. Thomas: Self-published.
Richardson, Bonham :
1983 Caribbean Migrants: Environment and Human Survival on St. Kitts and Nevis.
Knoxville, Tennesee: University of Tennessee Press.
1985 Panama Money in Barbados, 1900-1920. Knoxville, Tennessee University of
Turnbull, Charles W.
1976 The Structural Deve!opment of a Public Education System in the Virgin Islands,
1917-1970: A Functional Analysis in Historical Perspective. University of Minnesota:
Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation.
United States Census of Population
1917-1980 Census of Population for the Virgin Islands of the United States. Washington
D.C.: Bureau of the Census.
United States Census of Agriculture
1930,1960,1975 and 1982
Virgin Islands of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census.
Virgin Islands Daily News
1987 January 13
Virgin Islands Department of Commerce
1976 Comparative Growth Statistics. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and
1977 Economic Review, 2nd Quarter. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and
1978 Comparative Growth Statistics, 1960-1978. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning
1979 Economic Review, 4th Quarter. St. Thomas: Office of Policy and Planning
1980 Growth Statistics. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and Research.
1981-85 U.S. Virgin Islands Growth Statistics. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and
1981-85 U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Indicators. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and
1986 Economic Review. St. Thomas: Office of Policy Planning and Research.
Virgin Islands Department of Health
1969 Vital Statistics. St. Thomas: Bureau of Vital Records and Statistical Services.
1975 Vital Statistics. St. Thomas: Bureau of Vital Records and Statistical Services.
1981 Vital Statistics. St. Thomas: Bureau of Vital Records and Statistical Services.
Zabriskie, Luther K.
1918 The Virgin Islands of the United States of America. New York: G.P. Putnam's
Sons, The Knickerbocker Press.
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS'
POLITICAL STATUS, 1917 AND 1987
Paul M. Leary
Professor of Political Science
University of the Virgin Islands
The most remarkable aspect of the political status of the Virgin Islands of the United
States in 1987, as compared to 1917, is that, juridically, it has not changed. For seventy years
the Virgin Islands has been an unincorporated territory of the United States-that is, a colony.1
Of course, there have been substantial political achievements within the framework of that
status, including the attainment of extensive self-government and greater political equality.
For the past three generations, native leadership has largely defined its goal as securing the
promises held out by American democracy and the Constitution. On this seventieth anniversary
of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States--and the two
hundredth anniversary of the Constitution--it is appropriate to re-examine both the status and
the political strategy that have prevailed for so long. What was appropriate in the past may
not be today, or in the future. What once stimulated progress may have different results under
As is so often the case when one deals with the politics and status of the Virgin Islands,
it is best to begin by examining the outside forces that shaped events. As a small, vulnerable,
and dependent community, the Virgin Islands' destiny has frequently been determined by larger
entities and concerns that have had little interest in the opinions of its population.
The formal transfer of sovereignty from Danish to American rule on March 31, 1917,
resulted from a sale between colonial powers, with very limited thought given to the wishes of
the affected people. This was so unremarkable in the heyday of imperialism that even local
newspaper opinion of the day did not comment on it. 2 What is particularly ironic is that the
only process of popular consultation involved the Danish electorate, who were asked to
approve the sale in a plebiscite. 3 If a similar poll has been held in the Virgin Islands, its
validity would have been doubtful in any case, since property restrictions on the suffrage would
have produced a very unrepresentative ballot. It is estimated that only 5.5% of the 1917
population could exercise the franchise.4 When a plebiscite was conducted in 1867 in connection
with the abortive transfer attempt of that time, only 1266 people voted (1244 in favor; 22
opposed)-5 It is likely the same small turnout--and similar results-would have occurred in
It is well known that the exclusive American interest in the transfer was strategic.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, U. S. naval officers had viewed the Virgin Islands as vital to
national security.6 With the imminent prospect of American entry into World War I, and
trepidation that Germany might obtain control over the islands through a deal with Denmark,
pressures and inducements were brought to bear. These included a thinly veiled threat to take
the Virgin Islands by force, if necessary. An examination of all references to the purchase in the
papers of President Woodrow Wilson discloses not a single allusion to the interest, wishes, or
welfare of the inhabitants of the Virgin Islands. All one encounters are concerns about American
security interests and Danish commerical interests, Danish rights in Greenland, and the exact
In comparison with the American attitude, at least the Danes exhibited some small
concern for Virgin Islands' public opinion, as represented by the traditional planter-commercial
elite. The Danish government consulted with a delegation from the Colonial Councils in 1916
and, in the course of the negotiations, sought guarantees of U. S. citizenship for the islanders
and a local plebiscite.8 But the combination of American pressure 9 and the purchase price was
too strong to justify retaining a colony long in economic decline and requiring annual subsidies.10
In the worlds of real-politik and commerce, sentiment rarely prevails.
American concern about the s:...t:ic value of the islands was reflected in the generous
purchase price of $25 million in gold. As Westergaard notes, this was the most paid by the
United States for any of its purchased territories, including Louisiana and Alaska.11 It was
equivalent to twenty-five tons of the precious metal.12 At a contemporary price of
approximately $400 an ounce, the ,, .1 1 would be wv- i ;i $320 million today.
In purely idealistic terms, it is difficult to understand how the United States could
justify this transaction, even in an age when such deals were commonplace. The very
Declaration of Independence of the country was cast in the language of Lockean natural rights,
popular government and self-determination. Freedom was secured through anti-colonial
struggle against a tyrannical foreign monarchy. Indeed, the President at the time of the
transfer, Woodrow Wilson, would :.. ,' many of these principles to Europe in his famous
Fourteen Point Peace Proposal to end World War I. And even if the purchase of the Danish
West Indies was a necessity of war, one would anticipate that democratic principles would
apply once the threat was past. But not for the first or last time in American history, ideals
and practices did not coincide.
The Virgin Islands of 1917 represented, politically and socially, the antithesis of
American ideals. Antonio Jarvis characterized the level of inequality that existed in the
following scathing terms: "Social attitudes were practically the same in 1714, 1814 and 1914,
with the exception that 1914 had no slavery."13 Power was effectively in the hands of a
conservative planter-commercial oligarchy in association with the Danish colonial
government.14 The official framework of rule was provided by the Colonial Law of April 6,
1906. This law warrants closer examination, as it was adopted by the new American
Administration and retained until 1936.15
Under the Colonial Law of 1906, effective power was in the hands of the Danish King
and Parliament, particularly the Minister of Finance, acting through their local
representative, the Governor. The only local institutions of self-government were the separate
Colonial Councils for St. Croix and St. Thomas St. John. The role of these legislatures,
however, was primarily consultative and limited, with final authority clearly in the hands of
the Danish Diet if it chose to exercise it. The major influence of the Councils on local affairs
was through participation of members in departmental commissions that administered
governmental services. But when it came to real power, the locus was Denmark and its governor.
Under Article 1 of the Colonial Law, the Councils were authorized to legislate only if
the Danish parliament had not pre-empted the subject in question through its own laws. If the
Danish parliament decided to legislate specifically for the colonies, local Councils were
restricted to commenting on the ordinance before its final adoption (Article 2). Furthermore, no
local law could have effect until approved by the King and promulgated by the Governor
While the legislative powers of the Councils were restricted, the Governor wielded
extraordinary authority. Under Article 4, he could issue provisional laws or ordinances under
special circumstances, subject to subsequent approval by the Parliament or Council. He could
also postpone regular meetings of the Councils for up to fourteen days, and could even dissolve
them (Article 36). Interestingly, the Governor was entitled to attend Council meetings and
address them as often as he deemed proper. All communications with Denmark had to pass
through him (Article 37). The Governor could present drafts of proposed laws to the Council as
well (Article 39).
The Governor's influence was further extended through the composition of the Councils.
Of the eighteen members of the St. Croix legislature, five were nominated by the King or, in
practice, the Governor. Of the fifteen members of the St. Thomas St. John Council, four were
royal nominees (Article 14). Hence, to secure a loyal majority on St. Croix the executive needed
the support of five of the thirteen elected members; on St. Thomas St. John, the votes of only
four were necessary.
This autocratic system was even less democratic than it appears. Significant property
and personal qualifications were required to vote and hold office (Article 18). They were
restrictive enough to effectively disenfranchise all but a small minority of the population.
This system of government was aptly characterized by Gordon K. Lewis in the following words:
the governor, under the effective direction of the King and the minister of
finance in the metropolitan Diet, was the linchpin of local government, with
elective members of the Colonial Councils enjoying certain limited participatory
powers through the medium of departmental commissions. Armed with a variety
of powers--repressive press laws, a set of appointed Crown members, and the
ultimate power to dissolve the Councils-the governor ruled as a benevolent depot
It is instructive to contrast this Danish colonial government with American principles
The Constitution of 1787 was designed to insure that legislative authority was supreme
and that it rested --.at least indirectly--on popular sovereignty. While restrictions were
placed on direct democracy through Senators appointed by state legislatures, state control over
voting qualifications (including property requirements), slavery and sexism, the tide of history
would clearly favor the populist principle, not these limitations. By the early nineteenth
century, property restrictions on voting had been eliminated. After mid-century, slavery had
been abolished and the promise-but not the substance--of the ballot extended to Blacks.
Gender limitations were eliminated and popular election of Senators instituted in the early
twentieth century. The force of the principle of popular sovereignty was also reflected in the
treatment of territories of the United States under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This law
established a pattern followed until 1901, in which territories were considered nascent states
and provided with a representative assembly and a congressional delegate.
Joined with the principles of legislative supremacy and popular sovereignty was the
constitutional requirement of separation of powers. Legislatures could not be dissolved by the
executive, nor could the latter introduce laws, nominate members, or participate in debates.
While the executive could veto a law passed by the legislature, that could be overridden by a
Finally, there is the important matter of human rights. While the original
Constitution did not contain a formal enumeration of civil liberties, this was remedied in the
first Congress through the initial ten amendments. The essential liberties of speech, assembly,
religion, press, and due process--among others--were clearly delineated. Subsequent to the
Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment would further protect equal protection and due process
through their application to the States.
In summary, the Danish colonial government and U. S. democracy were poles apart.
The basic principles of popular sovereignty, legislative supremacy, separation of powers and
extensive civil liberties contained in the Constitution were not reflected in the Colonial Law of
1906. If the U. S. basic law and its principles were fully applied to the new acquisition, then a
major transformation was in prospect. Indeed, contemporary Virgin Islands' opinion appeared
to anticipate such a change. As one editorial put it: "We shall give our loyalty unstintingly to
the flag that now floats over us. From this moment on it is our flag and in every respect we
demand every privilege, all the rights, and all the protection for which it stands."17
It was this expectation of economic, social and political benefits that accounted for the
general welcome accorded the transfer in the islands. Even militant Virgin Islanders such as D.
Hamilton Jackson shared in this mood.18 In the Herald of April 2, 1917, Jackson commented: "It
was a very touching sight to see the Old Flag pulled down, but, at the same time, it was a
glorious one to see the Star Spangled Banner go up."19
The stage was now set for several patterns of interaction that would characterize U. S. -
Virgin Islands relations for seventy years. The first would be mutual misperception based on
the very different perspectives and expectations of Washington and the islands.20 The second
would be an ongoing struggle on the part of the more self-conscious native leadership to secure
the promises of the American Constitution. The third would be the failure to consider any
serious alternative to the political status represented by American rule.
The basis for mutual misperception was born in the differing expectations of
Washington and the Virgins in 1917. For Washington, the islands represented strategic pieces
of territory incidentally populated by Virgin Islanders. For the latter, America held out the
prospect for a substantial transformation of the conditions of island life. There is no evidence
whatsoever that the American President, Woodrow Wilson, either knew or cared about the
wishes of those he now controlled. In fact, from the historical record, there is no reason to
believe that he would have acted with great sympathy to the welfare of a predominantly
Woodrow Wilson's administration, while generally categorized as progressive, was not
kind to Black American citizens. Wilson consistently placed Blacks' interests very low on his
political agenda, which required the support of Southern Democrats. Under Wilson, Blacks
even suffered considerable setbacks in the federal civil service, as segregation was introduced to
both the Treasury Department and the Post Office. Wilson failed to speak out forcefully
against such outrages as race riots and lynchings, until unrest among Black military units caused
him to change. Before becoming President of the United States, Wilson, as President of
Princeton University, had discouraged Blacks from applying, on the grounds they would not be
comfortable there. A thorough study of Wilson's racial attitudes suggests that more than
political expediency lay behind his actions: "On the basis of his performances one cannot but
conclude that Woodrow Wilson was influenced by social prejudices, however much he may
have struggled to liberate his mind from them. He demonstrated a capacity for thinking in
large conceptions about democracy and peace but acted in neither a statesmanlike nor the right
manner in the race question."21 Given Wilson's preoccupation with such vital matters as the
war in Europe, the issue of the appropriate form of rule for the Virgin Islands was discussed at
lower levels of the government. And given the predominant strategic perception of the islands'
value, it was considered appropriate that the Navy Department take charge. Hence, the
Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, in his memorandum of March 8, 1917, indicated that
the appropriate form of government for the Virgins was naval rule. He emphasized the
strategic importance of the new possession in making his recommendation. One searches in vain
for any reference to popular sovereignty or political liberties. Daniel's only concession to the
role of local popular opinion was his misguided belief in the pervasive influence of maritime
concerns in the islands' culture: "The language and thought of the people is of ships and of the
sea."22 It is clear that Secretary Daniels never visited a sugar plantation on St. Croix.
The decision to place the Virgin Islands under naval rule was not simply the result of
predominant strategic concerns in Washington at the time of the transfer. It must also be
examined in the context of American history, particularly the contradiction between democratic
principles and the consequences of expansionism.
From its inception, the United States has been an expansionist nation. Following the
imperatives of "Manifest Destiny", the original thirteen states grew to encompass a large part
of the North American continent. And this movement did not stop at the water's edge. The
major areas of overseas interest were the Pacific and the Caribbean. As early as 1853,
Commodore Perry, in connection with his famous expedition to Japan, recommended the
acquisition of the Ryukyu Islands. Following the Civil War, Secretary of State Seward
attempted to purchase both the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. American
involvement in Samoan affairs dates to 1872. Meddling in Hawaiian politics by American
settlers resulted in the overthrow of the native monarchy in 1894.23
Nevertheless, the acquisition of Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain in
1898 was an historic and constitutional watershed. The war and its associated patriotic fervor
led to the possession of sizeable non-contiguous territories populated largely by racially mixed
and culturally distinct peoples. These forces also helped overcome domestic political resistance
to the annexation of Hawaii and the extension of control over Samoa.24 The terms under which
these areas would be joined to the United States would set the constitutional precedent applied
to the Virgin Islands in 1917.
Until 1898, the American political system contained only territories that were
considered to be future states, and as such entitled to the fullest possible extension of
constitutional rights. The newly acquired territories created a quandry for a nation that was
legally and ideologically unprepared for colonies and their administration. The question of the
appropriate political relationship was resolved through the Insular cases adjudicated by the
Supreme Court, particularly Downes v. Bidwell (1901). Through judicial interpretation there
was created a novel territorial status--the "unincorporated" territory. All the new possessions-
-with the exception of Hawaii--were defined as radically different from the older ones. Since
they enjoyed no prospect of statehood, the full Constitution need not apply. Only fundamental
provisions safeguarding basic human rights were automatically extended. As for the form and
manner of their government, that was up to Congress to determine. As William Boyer comments:
"The doctrine of incorporation is clearly contrary to the principle of equality set forth in the
Declaration of Independence and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787."25
In practice, two models of colonial administration were fashioned by Congress and
applied to the "unincorporated territories". For the larger and more populous entities--Puerto
Rico and the Philippines--Organic Acts were passed that provided for civilian government, a
locally elected legislature with limited authority, and an executive and judicial branch
controlled by Washington through appointment. U. S. citizenship was not extended initially,
but was provided for Puerto Rico in 1917. (The Filipinos were never granted U. S. citizenship.)
For the smaller insular possessions, another approach was taken. Naval governments
with practically unlimited authority were established. While this autocratic system was
replaced by civilian control in the Virgin Islands by 1931, it endured in Guam until 1950 and in
American Samoa until 1951. In addition, U. S. citizenship was not provided until serious
political struggle on the part of the peoples of the Virgin Islands and Guam resulted in its
extension. In the case of the Virgin Islands, this occurred in 1927. Guam had to wait until 1951,
after having proved its loyalty in World War II. American Samoa, because of concerns about
the impact of citizenship on the protection of its traditional culture, has not sought that
These, then, were the main external factors that accounted for the form of status and
government conferred upon the Virgin Islands in 1917: a prevailing imperialist ethos; an
American President preoccupied with war and national security and at best indifferent to the
interest of Black people; an administration that gave no thought to popular concerns in the
islands; an expansionist nation that had acquired colonial possessions and applied an unequal
and undemocratic political status to them.
The result was that rather than the democracy anticipated by Virgin Islanders, the old
Danish autocracy reappeared in the new form of U. S. naval rule. The Colonial Law of 1906 and
other local laws in effect at the time of the transfer were simply continued, and a naval
governor replaced a Danish one.27 Not for the last time, American and Virgin Islands'
perceptions and expectations were dramatically different.
What is interesting, however, is that the popular political leadership in the Virgin
Islands, while bitterly disappointed, adopted the approach of struggling to fulfill the unkept
American political and social promise. This strategy would continue without serious challenge
until the present day.
It is not the purpose of this paper to detail the effort to fulfill the principles of
American democracy that ensued after the transfer. This has been done admirably by William
Boyer in his treatment of the human rights struggle in the Virgin Islands.28 In Gordon Lewis'
account of the period, we also find the following apt summary of the nature of the politics of
the period and its heroes:
Even the heroic efforts of the great names of the history of the Virgin Islands
political struggle after 1917--Rothschild Francis, Hamilton Jackson, Lionel
Roberts, Casper Holstein, Ashley Totten, and the rest--can be seen not so much as
a struggle against American rule as such, but rather as an effort to gain for Virgin
Islanders as many of the rights and privileges that pertained to that rule as
The milestones of that struggle, both by the leaders cited by Lewis and their successors,
are well known: U. S. citizenship (1927); civilian rule (1931); self-government and universal
suffrage (Organic Act of 1936); an elected governor (1968); a delegate to Congress (1972);
authority to write a constitution (1976). The questions that now must be raised, however, are
what are the implications for the Virgin Islands of 1987 of a continuation of this political
direction, and how appropriate is the political status that formed its foundation?
The Virgin Islands of 1987 exists in a transformed global and national context. On a
world level, all forms of colonialism and imperialism are considered illegitimate, and self-
determination is a concept that no longer applies only to Europeans. Hence, the sale of a
territory from one foreign "owner" to another--even with a local plebiscite-is unthinkable. As
one scholar noted: "The overwhelming majority of the United Nations has come to accept the
proposition, passionately held by many of them, that colonialism is an abomination in the eyes
of God and man to be promptly extirpated."30
This sentiment is not focused exclusively on large remaining colonies, such as Namibia,
but on all enclaves of foreign control, no matter how small. In the words of a recent United
Nations report describing the position of the General Assembly's Special Committee of 24 on
Decolonization: ". the Committee reaffirmed the inalienable right of the inhabitants of
smaller territories to self-determination and independence ... and reiterated the view that such
factors as size, geographical location, population and limited natural resources should in no
way delay the speedy implementation of the process of self-determination ... ".31 It is clear
that the political status of the Virgin Islands, born in the colonial world of 1917, is an anomaly
The United States is also a vastly different nation in 1987. From the hesitant actor on
the stage of global politics of 1917, America has become one of the two central players of the
nuclear age. In domestic politics, racism no longer possesses any legal basis. While its social
and economic manifestations are still much in evidence, it is constitutionally invalid. No
American President today could adopt the posture of a Woodrow Wilson. Economically,
America emerged after World War II as the world's richest nation and the center of the
international marketplace. That position has eroded in recent years, but has not disappeared.
One result of this affluence is the existence of considerable disposable income. Combined with a
desire to visit warm and exotic places, it would provide the basis for tourism in the Virgin
Islands, with all of its implications.
These transformations, global and national, create the larger setting for a Virgin
Islands that has now secured much of the internal political self-government and equality
possible through the present relationship with the United States. Some additional progress is
still possible, but it will require only some expansion of the traditional view regarding what is
achievable within the status of unincorporated territory.
The only major political rights within the American political system that are still
unsecured are the presidential vote and full congressional representation. Serious constitutional
and political obstacles exist to their attainment, given the requirement of statehood, which the
federal system makes a prerequisite for full participation. The only way around this difficulty
is through constitutional amendment--a long and difficult process--or statehood.32 Neither
appears to be a likely prospect.
Against the remaining political inequalities of the present status must be balanced the
economic benefits it makes possible. Because the Virgin Islands are an unincorporated territory,
they can receive special consideration that would not be possible if they were a state or
incorporated territory to which the entire Constitution applied. Exceptions can be made. They
presently include the measures that serve as the foundation of the public treasury. The most
important are the payment of federal income taxes to the local government combined with local
administration; eligibility for federal grants despite the absence of tax contributions to
Washington; the return of most federal excise taxes collected on rum; special customs allowances
on gifts and liquor purchased by visitors. In addition, U. S. sovereignty is a considerable factor
in supporting the tourist trade that is now the centerpiece of the entire private economy. The
result is a heavy dependence on both special benefits and the American identity for economic
survival. The dependence is so profound that a recent analysis described the Virgin Islands'
economy as a "tightly integrated regional subsystem of the U. S. which draws its vitality from
its responsiveness to national forces."33
Perhaps for that reason, recent calls for changes in Virgin Islands' federal relations, as
reflected in the work of the Third (1979) and Fourth (1980-81) Constitutional conventions, have
been relatively modest and can be accommodated within the present political status. The major
concerns expressed can be summarized under these categories:
1. The removal of remaining controls on political authority that still exist under the
1954 Organic Act.
These include the elimination of the federally appointed controller and his
replacement either with a locally appointed official or the general supervision of the General
Accounting Office of Congress. In addition, there is the call for termination of the jurisdiction of
the Interior Department, the end of the right of ultimate Congressional veto over Virgin Islands
legislation (never exercised), and the removal of restrictions placed on the number of executive
departments (nine, unless approved by the Secretary of the Interior or required by federal law).
2. The provision of an adequate financial basis for the U. S. Virgin Islands Government.
The main concern in this area is a Congressional commitment to the return of all federal
taxes collected on all products made in the Virgin Islands, including petroleum.
3. New authority.
Within this general category, greater control is requested over immigration. In
addition, there is the expressed desire for limitations on the applicability of federal
constitutional requirements when conflicts exist with local constitutional provisions designed to
safeguard Virgin Islands culture and autonomy. Also within this area are calls for more
opportunities for relations with Caribbean nations; creation of a Virgin Islands citizenship; and
provisions for regular and formal consultations with the federal government on the terms of the
It is clear that all the changes requested in the first two categories could be easily
accommodated within the present political status if the federal government agreed to them.
What may not be as evident is that all of the changes contained in the last category--including
selective restrictions on the applicability of particular constitutional provisions to safeguard
local culture--could also be achieved with no alteration of the unincorporated territory status.
Indeed, a model already exists within the American territorial system that exhibits all of the
features sought by the proposed Virgin Islands federal relations acts. That model is the
Northern Marianas Covenant.
On February 15, 1975, the United States signed an agreement with the Northern
Marianas Islands, a former part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands located five
thousand miles west of San Francisco. The agreement created a "self-governing Commonwealth
... in political union with and under the sovereignty of the United States of America." Among
the most significant features of the compact are:
1. No federal controller.
2. No Interior Department jurisdiction.
3. Congressional commitment to refrain from exercising authority over the
basic provisions of the agreement.
4. Representation in one house of the Marianas legislature based on
geography, not population-despite the apparent conflict with the equal
protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution and its
"one man one vote" interpretation by the U. S. Supreme Court.
5. Broad rights to the return of the federal revenues enjoyed by other
territories combined with eligibility for a range of federal grants and
programs including some (such as Supplemental Security Income) still not
applied to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
6. Economic development grants of $14 million a year for seven years,
adjusted for inflation, for a population of 13,000. (On a per capital basis,
this would equal approximately $112 million a year fcr the Virgin
7. Control over immigration by non-citizens of the United States, including
the right to create local regulations, until Congress acts otherwise.
8. Prohibition against people of "non-Northern Marianas descent" from
owning real property, despite apparent conflicts with both the equal
protection and privileges and immunities clauses of the 14th Amendment
of the U. S. Constitution.
9. Regular consultation between Washington and the Marianas on all
matters affecting the relationship. Meetings can be convened at the
request of either party.35
Hence, all the changes still sought by the Virgin Islands have already been achieved
by a territory that has been under American sovereignty for only ten years. And this was
accomplished explicitly within the framework of unincorporated territory status, despite the
title of "Commonwealth". In the words of the Report of the House Committee on Interior and
Insular Affairs that accompanied the Covenant when it was favorably reported out of
committee: "Although described as a commonwealth, the relationship is territorial in nature
with full sovereignty vested in the United States and plenary legislative authority vested on
the United States Congress."36
There are, then, no serious legal or constitutional impediments to a broadening of Virgin
Islands political autonomy within the present relationship with the United States. Complete
political equality in the form of a presidential vote and full representation on Congress are
constitutionally more difficult, but their absence must be balanced against the special economic
benefits associated with these remaining inequalities.
More difficult issues arise, however, when one considers the long-term consequences of
pursuing a seventy-year path of progressing with in the terms of the existing status. Is the
political evolution begun in 1917 appropriate to 1987? To deal with that question, we must
examine the society that has been created by recent economic, demographic, technological and
political changes-changes that were largely the result of political status.
As previously noted, economic integration with the United States has reached new
heights, particularly with the development of the tourist economy in the 1960's.37 Associated
with that process has been a profound set of demographic effects. Immigration from the Eastern
Caribbean and the continental United States, combined with the impact of past population
movements from Puerto Rico and the French Caribbean, have resulted in major numerical
growth, an altered group composition, and increased density.
Immigration, of course, has always been characteristic of the Virgin Islands and the
Caribbean as a whole. It has been estimated, for example, that 20% of the population at the
time of the transfer was non-native-born"38 But the volume and impact of the influx that has
occurred over the past twenty-five years has been unprecedented. It has made native-born
Virgin Islanders a numerical minority. It has also created a society divided along complex lines
of race, class, color, ethnicity and citizenship.
At a conference on political status held at the then College of the Virgin Islands in
March, 1968, Mr. Philip A. Gerard of St. Croix made a presentation entitled "Social
Configurations and Some Problems". Mr. Gerard's comments are still very relevant:
The Virgin Islands society is indeed plagued by factional disputes; racism does
exist; economic exploitation is a fact of daily island life; poverty abounds in
many quarters; functional illiteracy is assuming alarming proportions; and the
opportunity to participate fully in our economic and social life is not open to all
members of the society.39
Mr. Gerard went on to describe the links between ethnicity and socio-economic position
that were then emerging. He noted that whites dominated the economy and were well
represented in the professions. The native black upper middle class was largely professional
rather than entrepreneurial and controlled the government. The mass of native blacks and
Puerto Ricans were consumers occupying the middle and lower economic and social positions. At
the bottom of the ladder were recent Caribbean immigrants and unskilled native blacks and
Mr. Gerard's description of Virgin Islands' society in 1968, with only modest
modifications, applies today. Furthermore, over the past thirty years the Virgin Islands has
been transformed from one in which the black native-born segment constituted the clear
majority--estimated at approximately 60% of the population as late as 1960 41-to a segmented
one in which none of the major groups has a majority position. According to the 1980 Census, of a
total population of 96,569, only 43,234 were born in the Virgin Islands, or 45% of the population.
And this 45% is not composed exclusively of the black native-born. If we examine the
percentage of the population with mothers born outside the Virgin Islands, the figures are even
more revealing. A total of 66% of the 1980 population belong in this category. Just one-third of
the residents of the islands had maternal roots that extended beyond one generation.
Another significant demographic factor with important implications is age
composition. The 1980 Census indicated that 43% of the population was 18 years or younger. In
addition to obvious ramifications for employment and crime, there are political and social ones
as well. The attitudes and values of this generation of Virgin Islands-born youth could have a
major impact upon the political future of the islands, including their status.
One more immediate political consequence of the present diverse nature of Virgin
Islands society is that it makes it all but impossible to achieve broad consensus on basic
political issues, such as a new constitution or altered political status. This is particularly the
case when sensitive symbolic issues are raised that split the population along the fault lines of
race, ethnicity, or birthplace. Efforts to secure popular majorities for proposed constitutions, for
example, have foundered upon such questions of a Virgin Islands citizenship, and possible
nativity requirements for public office. Two recent efforts to examine political status-first by a
broad-based commission and then by Select Legislative Committee--have so far met with
limited success as well. Citizen groups that have raised the status issue have also not managed
to overcome a combination of public indifference and suspicion. It is likely that any effort to
define the Virgin Islands political status that are perceived as attempts to give a special
position to the native-born, or which threaten the present close relationship with the United
States, will encounter the same difficulties experienced by the proposed constitutions.42
Perhaps the best approach at this time would be a campaign of neutral public education that
would at least familiarize the population with the issues rather than present them with
Another consequence of the diversity of the present population is the emergence of a
politics clearly based on group appeals that may, over time, threaten native black control of
the political structure. In the past gubernatorial election, much analysis of voting behavior
took place in terms of Hispanic districts, white continental strongholds, allegiance of French
whites, political inclinations of naturalized citizens from the Eastern Caribbean, and splits in
the black native electorate--at least in private, but increasingly in public as well.
Furthermore, political slogans and appeals, as well as particular gestures, have to be
understood in this context. It may be that the kind of coalition politics and ethnic trade-offs
familiar in urban areas of the United States have become part of Virgin Islands politics as
If current economic and demographic changes continue along their present course, there
is slight prospect for any basic reassessment of political status or the strategy of seeking
progress within it. This assessment is further supported if one considers the impact of
technological and cultural change and the psychological results of U. S. citizenship.
American cultural influence is spread by both the transient tourist population and
resident continentals. Their example is reinforced by the media, travel, and education. Many
Virgin Islanders are both physically and psychologically closer to American values than ever
before. Mainland lifestyles, consumption patterns--and social problems-are all on constant
display and are widely emulated. They may be as influential as economic dependence in
impeding the development of the separate national-cultural identity that is a pre-requisite for
political identity. A political status that would separate the Virgin Islands from the United
States becomes not only economically impracticable but mentally unthinkable.
Another psychological factor of considerable importance is the possession of U. S.
citizenship. There was great disappointment among the transfer generation that this key to
political equality was initially withheld by the United States.43 It required ten years of
struggle to obtain it. That citizenship continues to be a proud possession of most Virgin
Islanders. It brings obvious benefits in the form of personal and social mobility, identification
with the ideals and power of the United States, and the ability to travel at will to the
Mainland. It is also politically useful in making a case before Congress for just treatment of
fellow citizens, particularly a population with a significant percentage of veterans and
members of the Armed Services. One has only to travel to neighboring Caribbean islands and
witness the long lines of applicants for U. S. entry visas to appreciate the value of an American
But that common citizenship has also obstructed the development of a politically
distinct Virgin Islands' identity. It has encouraged efforts to define political change only
within the context of present status. It helps to separate Virgin Islanders from their Caribbean
neighbors, both legally and psychologically. In that respect, one need only reflect on the past
treatment of Eastern Caribbean immigrants to accept the validity of this observation.
Common citizenship under the U. S. Constitution also makes it politically difficult to
sustain claims for special treatment based on the need for cultural protection. If all share
equally in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, how can one group be granted a
privileged position at the expense of unequal treatment of other? Hence, the argument often
proceeds, if native-born Virgin Islands Americans can buy property in New York City, then why
cannot a New Yorker do the same in the Virgin Islands? The same claims for equivalent
treatment are made in areas such as business ownership, employment, government contracts,
residency rights, and immigration.
What makes the argument suspect is that the situations are not equivalent, although
citizenship may be the same. For example, as the population of the Virgin Islands increases,
immigration of wealthy continentals continues, and the tourism sector attracts more investment,
land values inevitably rise, often steeply. One result is that native landowners are tempted to
sell their remaining holdings. Those in a position to buy are the outsiders. Since the more
desirable locations cost more, again the purchasers are often non-native and white. Patterns of
de facto residential segregation begin to appear. As land values rise, so do rents and the cost of
home ownership. Over time, a pattern emerges in which black natives and non-natives
increasingly occupy marginal public housing as land ownership is alienated and home
ownership becomes a remote hope. Considerable sums of money are made by banking and real
estate interests that broker land and home transactions, and that are also controlled or owned
by white continentals. The inevitable result is native reaction and resentment, as their
patrimony disappears and they feel dispossessed in their own land. This is hardly a social-
political impact equivalent to the consequences of Virgin Islanders purchasing real property in
New York City. The same can be said of the results of immigration, cultural transference,
investment and employment.
These consequences can often be traced to political status. Perhaps it was the longer-
term implications of common citizenship under a common Constitution for native Virgin
Islanders that led professor Roy Macridis to remark at the 1968 conference:
I think a careful reexamination should be made of the provisions of the
Constitution and of Congressional legislation that apply, thanks to the
supremacy clause, to the Virgin Islands. Though I am equally concerned with the
substance and the forms of administrative tutelage, I find the blanket
application of the U. S. Constitution and the overriding character of
Congressional legislation to be potentially a tutelage more pervasive and far
more difficult to do away with. Ironically enough, the islanders see their full
emancipation in the Constitution; and they pleaded to 'contract in.' The time
may come for a careful and discriminating 'contracting out.' For as long as the
Constitution is supreme and Congressional legislation too, I cannot see how
genuine self-government, adopted to local needs, can be instituted, especially
when the federal judiciary, sworn to uphold the Constitution, is the final judge.44
Thus, American citizenship and the U. S. Constitution have had two distinct
dimensions for the Virgin Islands. The positive one has been the promise--and increasing
reality--of equal political treatment, democratic government, and economic opportunity. Over
the past seventy years much of this promise has been achieved, albeit often after struggle. One
result is that most Virgin Islanders have a strong sense of political efficacy. Through free and
honest elections, characterized by exceptionally high voter turnout, all major local officials are
chosen. Public opinion is constantly consulted by those in power. Rights of free expression are
respected and vigorously exercised. The legislature and governor wield full authority over the
vast majority of locally significant issues. Economically, Virgin Islanders enjoy the highest
standard of living in the Caribbean and a wide range of social benefits.
But there is a negative dimension as well. Equal political treatment under the U. S.
Constitution makes it difficult to resist external forces exerted through immigration, land
purchase, business investment and cultural example. If the most significant badge of identity is
common citizenship, it is difficult to justify special protections and exceptions. It also may
simply be too late to make such claims given the transformations that have already taken
place. For native Virgin Islanders, the results of these factors in 1987 are loss of majority
position, land alienation, lack of economic control, and a possible threat to political power.
If a fundamental reassessment of the present situation is to occur, it may only happen
when younger Virgin Islanders come of age. Historically, anti-colonial movements have rested
upon a firm sense of cultural and national identity that eventually leads to separate political
status. That identity does not exist today in the Virgin Islands. But with the next generation,
formed from the diverse streams of immigration that have joined the indigenous population,
attitudes may be different. As a number of observers have noted, there are no major ethnic or
cultural obstacles to an amalgamation of native Virgin Islanders and Eastern Caribbean
immigrants.45 The Puerto Rican population has likewise demonstrated considerable ability to
integrate itself within the larger population.46 Prospects for the creolization of the white
continental population are more problematic.47 Nevertheless, it would not require a
completely unified people to create a sufficient basis for a political movement--only a sufficient
majority with a strong, shared identity as Virgin Islanders first and foremost.
Whether this will come to pass is, of course, by no means certain. For example, it is not
clear how extensive is the out-migration of Virgin Islands youth due to limited employment
possibilities in the islands. If this trend exists to a significant degree, then it may alter the
situation. In addition, it is by no means a certainty that a common identity will emerge among
young people that will transcend the divisions that exist among their parents. The
socialization process usually reinforces differences rather than eliminates them.
Whether the attitudes of the next generation of Virgin Islanders will create a break in
established political patterns is thus unclear. But for the present generation and the near-term
future, it is difficult to see how any basic reassessment of the present political status and its
associated politics can take place. The combined force of external factors and internal divisions
make it unlikely. The historical anomaly of a dependent political relationship in an era of
independence will continue to exist. The status of the transfer will remain in place, with all of
its consequences for the future Virgin Islands.
1 While Congress has treated the Virgin Islands as an unincorporated territory since the
purchase, the label was not explicitly applied until the 1954 Revised Organic Act.
Section 2 of the Act slates: "The Virgin Islands as above described are hereby declared
an unincorporated territory of the United States." Text of the Act is found in James A.
Bough and Roy C. Macridis (eds.), Virgin Islands: America's Caribbean Outpost
(Wakefield, Massachusetts: Walter F. Williams Publishing Company, 1970) pp. 59ff.
2 Luther K. Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands of the United States of America (New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1918) pp. 300ff.
3 Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., p. 252. The vote was 238, 694 in favor and 157, 596 opposed, for
an approval rate of 64%.
4. William Boyer, America's Virgin Islands: A History of Human Rights and Wrongs (Durham,
North Carolina Academic Press) p. 140.
5. Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ... pp. 77-79.
6. Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., pp. 239-249 and pp. 247-249.
7. Arthur S. Link (ed.), The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Vol. 35 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1980), especially pp. 202-203; 284-285; 290; 350; and 495.
8 Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ... p. 243.
9. For evidence of American threats to take the islands by force if circumstances required it, see
"Memorandum by Robert Lansing, November 15, 1915", The Papers of Woodrow
Wilson Vol. 35, pp. 202-203.
10. The subsidy for 1916-1917, for example, was estimated by Zabriskie to be $126,898.53. See
Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., pp. 219-222.
11. Waldemar Westergaard, The Danish West Indies Under Company Rule, 1671-1754 (New York:
The Macmillan Company, 1917) p. 261.
12. Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., p. 238.
13. J. Antonio Jarvis, The Virgin Islands and Their People (Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company,
1944) p. 85.
14. Gordon K. Lewis, The Virgin Islands: A Caribbean Lilliput (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern
University Press, 1972) pp. 33-37.
15. For the text of the Colonial Law, see Bough and Macridis, Virgin Islands ..., pp. 15-29.
16. Lewis, The Virgin Islands ..., p. 37.
17. Quotation from Lightbourn's Mail of April 2, 1917 in Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands .. ., p. 303.
18. Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ..., p. 76.
19. Quoted in Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., p. 316.
20. On this point, see Jerome L. McElroy and Klaus de Albuquerque, "Federal Perceptions and
Policy Versus Virgin Islands Reality", Review of Regional Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, Fall, 1984.
21. Henry Blumenthal, "Woodrow Wilson and the Race Question," The Journal of Negro History,
vol. XLVII, no. 1, January, 1963, pp. 20-21.
22. Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson ... vol. 41, pp. 362-363.
23. Richard W. Van Alstyne, The Rising American Empire (New York: W. W. Norton and Company,
Inc., 1974). See also Boyer, America's Virgin Islands..., pp. 87ff.
24. For an overview of the American territorial system and its historical antecedents, see Report to
the Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States: Experiences of Past
Territories Can Assist Puerto Rco Status Deliberations (Washington, D. C.: General
Accounting Office, 1980).
25. Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ..., p. 103.
26. For an historical overview of the U. S. Territorial system and more recent developments in the
area of political status, see Paul Leary, Position Paper: Background Information.
Analysis and Recommendations (St. Thomas: Virgin Islands Status Commission, 1981).
27. For the text of the Act of March 3, 1917, that provided for the temporary government of the Virgin
Islands, see Zabriskie, The Virgin Islands ..., pp. 289-293.
28. Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ..., esp. chapter 6.
29. Lewis, The Virgin Islands ..., p. 21.
30. Rupert Emerson, Self-Determination Revisited in the Era of Decolonization (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1964) pp. 17-18.
31. The United Nations and Decolonization (New York: United Nations, 1980) p. 44.
32. It is interesting to note that the District of Columbia, which gained the Presidential vote through
the 23rd Amendment (1961), is now pursuing statehood as the only way to achieve full
political equality and influence in the American political system.
33. McElroy and de Albuquerque, "Federal Perceptions and Policy ... ", p. 48 and pp. 51-52.
34. See the summary contained in Leary, Position Paper ..., pp. 105-107.
35. Paul Leary, The Northern Marianas Covenant and U. S. Territorial Relations (Berkeley,
California: Institute of Governmental Studies, 1980).
36. Quoted in Leary, The Northern Marianas Covenant...., p. 22.
37. See above, p. 54.
38. Klaus de Albuquerque and Jerome L. McElroy, "Race and Ethnicity in the United States Virgin
Islands", Ethnic Groups, vol. 6,1985, pp. 43-44.
39. Bough and Macridis, Virgin Islands ..., pp. 43-44.
40. Bough and Macridis, Virgin Islands ..., pp. 157-158. See also Albuquerque and McElroy, "Race
and Ethnicity... ", pp. 50-53.
41. Estimates made by Martin Orlins and quoted in Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ..., pp. 254-256.
Orlins defined a native Virgin Islander as someone born in the Virgin Islands who is a
negro or mulatto descendant of former slaves and/or of the negroes and mulattoes who
have migrated to the islands, particularly from the British Caribbean.
42. In a Louis Harris poll taken in 1981, the public ranked the status of the Virgin Islands last when
given a list of seventeen serious issues, with only 14% of respondents indicating it was
"very serious." In addition, 55% favored a close relationship with the United States and
32% preferred the status quo. See A Survey of Residents Attitudes Toward Major Issues
Facing the U. S. Virgin Island ds (Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., April, 1981.)
43 On this point, see Boyer, America's Virgin Islands ..., pp. 136-138 and pp. 142-145.
44. Bough and Macridis, Virgin Islands ..., p. 186.
45. See Albuquerque and McElroy, "Race and Ethnicity .. ", pp. 54-56; p. 63 and Lewis, The Virgin
Islands..., pp. 233-235.
46. Lewis, The Virgin Islands ..., pp. 212-214.
47. As Gordon Lewis observes: "Perhaps the most insidious of all... is the spirit of American cultural
imperialism. The American in the Caribbean, as much as the Englishman, seems
morally incapable of becoming creolized, weaned from the conviction of belonging to
what Kienan has called the "lords of all humankind". He is unlikely to become anything
else, or even to want to become anything else, because what he already is seems to him
to be the pinnacle of human perfection." Lewis, The Virgin Islands ..., pp. 261-162.
RACE AND ETHNIC
RELATIONS IN THE U. S. VIRGIN
Marilyn F. Krigger
Professor of History
University of the Virgin Islands
This lecture is the third in a series commemorating the 70th anniversary of the
transformation of the Danish West Indies into the Virgin Islands of the United States. The
speakers on the two previous topics--socioeconomic conditions and political status--both
observed that conditions in those areas were much more similar in 1917 and 1987 than most of us
tend to believe. In my area--race and ethnic relations--there is also a basic pattern of
similarity: the same races as in 1917 are in the controlling and the subordinate positions and
major political factors, now as in 1917, seem to have the subordinate group in a position where
its members can do little, other than agitate, to effect changes to their advantage. On the other
hand, certain changes in race relations since 1917 have been so quantitatively and qualitatively
great that adjectives such as "revolutionary" and "overwhelming" are quite justifiable.
Race and ethnic relations may be defined as all aspects of behavior--thoughts, words,
and deeds--among interacting peoples which are influenced by their awareness of each other's
actual or imagined differences. Two caveats should be known. One is that, due to time
restrictions, the relationships discussed will be mainly those between persons identified with
the racial groups known as black and white, even though one of the changes on the Virgin
Islands ethnic scene during the past seven decades has been the increasing presence of persons
not popularly identified with either of these two racial groups. Secondly, my designations of
"black" and "white" throughout this lecture are based on the present local definitions, adopted
from the United States, even though they may be at variance with racial classifications in the
islands prior to U. S. rule. By present definition, white means having ancestry identified only
as white; black means having any known degree of Negroid ancestry.
The 1917 census of the Virgin Islands, taken by the United States in December 1917,
reported a population of 26,051. That population comprised four socioracial groups, so called
because, in addition to race, there were certain traditional socioeconomic factors that served to
make each group distinct. Of the 26,051 persons, 1,922 or 7.4% were listed as white.1
Interestingly, the white population contained both the highest and lowest-ranked socioracial
groups of the time. The highest was comprised of an assortment of Danes and other Europeans or
descendants of Europeans. The group had recently lost, at the time of the Transfer, several
scores of Danes who had accepted the Danish Government's offer of free transportation to
Denmark for those who wished to return because of the change of sovereignty. On the other
hand, the group was being augmented by the arrival of the personnel of the new American
At the other extreme of the socioeconomic scale were French-descended Whites, who
had been migrating for several decades from the island of St. Barthelemy. Several hundred of
them lived on St. Thomas, giving that island a white population that was more than twice the
white population of St. Croix. The French were not considered white, however, by most of the
St. Thomas population as whiteness had traditionally been associated with privilege and
economic well-being. The French descendants had neither; they engaged in small-scale farming
or fishing for their livelihood and lived much more frugally than the Blacks, often not even
wearing shoes. Consequently, they were looked down upon and referred to by the derogatory
name of "ChaCha." Indicative of their educational level was the report by the census of 1917
that French women had the highest level of illiteracy on St. Thomas.2
Between the two white extremes stood the more than 92% of the Virgin Islands
population that had varying amounts of Negroid ancestry, and thus by today's terminology
would be classified as black. However, in 1917 the traditional West Indian tricolor
classification prevailed in the Virgin Islands. Thus, 17.7% of the population was recorded by
the census takers as being "mixed" and 74.9% was classified as Negro.3 Mixed persons, who had
noticeably white plus Negroid ancestry, had historically been treated as a group above and
apart from those of unmixed or predominantly African ancestry. As a result, they generally
demonstrated great pride in the European components of their ancestry and tried to suppress, as
much as possible, any reminders of the African input. They often looked with disdain on
persons who were predominantly African, and tried to maintain a lifestyle as close as possible
to that of well-positioned Whites.4
The majority of persons classed as Negroes lived lives that were circumscribed by
conditions which stemmed from the legal and economic restrictions of the slavery and post-
slavery periods. This class, however, was by far the most varied. It ranged economically from
those who lived in sordid poverty to some who were quite comfortable and enjoyed a great deal
of respect. Its racial span stretched from persons of pure African ancestry to the mulatto
children, often paternally unacknowledged, of liaisons between white employers or other
solicitors and Negro women.5
The traditions of interaction which existed among these groups in 1917 were
characterized by a sense of paternalism on the part of the upper-class Whites and a formal
cordiality of each group toward the others. There was a widespread feeling that the
inhabitants were heirs to special historical circumstances that had favored the Danish West
Indies. The favorable circumstances referred to had included the impartation by Moravian
missionaries of a greater degree of education than most slave communities had been privileged
to; the long-established commercial nature of the St. Thomas economy which had allowed a
greater degree of certain liberties than existed in plantation economies; the long-established
presence of a very cosmopolitan European population with its cultural variety; and the
prevailing belief that these islands had been very benevolently treated by their Danish rulers.
In support of the latter, a Danish commission in 1916 had found that Denmark expended more
funds on its three-island colony than Great Britain did on all its numerous West Indian
University of Puerto Rico scholar Gordon Lewis has argued that claims regarding the
special liberal quality of Danish rule were more myth than fact.7 Whether one agrees with
Dr. Lewis or not, it is probably inarguable that in matters of group relations, strongly held
beliefs are more important determinants of attitudes and behavior than what might be pointed
to as fact. And available evidence indicates that a large number of the inhabitants of the V. I.
in 1917--both Whites and Blacks--felt that their society was one with a racial tradition that
was relatively free of rancor and tension. The Whites viewed themselves benevolently as
having been the special creators or guardians of such a society, and most Blacks thought
themselves far better off than American Blacks, for example, because of the Jim Crowism the
The continuance of a plantation economy on St. Croix had occasioned conditions that
produced more tension than existed on St. Thomas. The 1916 sugar-workers' strike, led by D.
Hamilton Jackson, had brought these to a head. A white Crucian planter, Robert Skeoch, noted
in his memoirs decades later:
The strike created a bitter feeling and there were disagreeable instances due to
the disrespectful conduct of the negroes toward the whites and I regretfully add,
that the former respect has never been entirely restored.9
Quite to the contrary, two white Americans who spent the early months of 1917 in St.
The St. Thomian Negroes are far more polite than any other Negroes in the
West Indies; they do not seem to wish to be on a footing of equality with their
white fellow citizens. This is undoubtedly due to the excellent and kind training
given them during the Danish rule ... If in the future the same treatment is
accorded the natives, there will be no troubles between the Whites and
Thus were the versions of race relations as these islands passed to U.S. sovereignty in
1917. For in the last decades of Danish rule, the official stance and the ensuing popular
attitude had de-emphasized racial matters and characterized any intergroup differences or
conflicts as stemming from class, not racial, attributes. In St. Thomas, for example, to the extent
that any group was the object of overt discriminatory behavior, such as name-calling, it was
more often than not the French.11
Both islanders and certain officials in Denmark had been fearful that the change in
sovereignty may also have meant a change in ethnic relationships--that the well-known U. S.
pattern of race relations might be transferred to the islands. According to the definitive
historian of the purchase negotiations, the Danish Foreign Minister had asked the U. S. to
"give guarantees which would affect the kind treatment of the present inhabitants, principally
Negroes." The U. S. Ambassador to Denmark had assured the Danish Minister that
"Americans were so well acquainted with the true character of the negroes that they could
make them more content than the Europeans."12
Given the preceding history of the U. S. and its state of race relations at the time of the
Transfer, it is likely that any American administration would probably have occasioned a
departure from the former style of ethnic relations in the islands. But the character of the new
American administrators increased the probability to a certainty, for the islands were assigned
to be governed temporarily by the U. S. Navy. The temporariness lasted for fourteen years,
from 1917 to 1931, during which time, ironically, the Navy (in 1920) adopted an official
national policy of being an all-white organization.13.
Race relations in the Virgin Islands underwent substantial changes during the naval
period. The population of the islands was increased by several hundred white persons within
the first few years-naval officers, enlisted men, and their dependents. In accordance with the
traditions of their home society, their overt social associations were limited to other Whites on
the islands.14 And a number of incidents during the early naval years, such as the beating and
searching of local civilians, the firing of guns in heavily populated black neighborhoods, and
the use of racial epithets, left no doubt that the old order had yielded to a new.15
The naval regime began the process of transforming the old three-tiered racial system
into the American black/white dichotomy. In deference to the Danish tradition, however, the
V. I. censuses of 1917, 1930, 1940, 1950, and 1960 had the racial categories of White, Negro,
Mixed and Other. However, the census of 1970 finally eliminated the Mixed; its three
categories were simply White, Negro, and Other. The Census of 1980 further modernized that
to White, Black, and Other.16 The surprise is that it took so long for the census to become
reflective of American racial thought, for it was no secret from 1917 that mixed persons were
officially placed into the same racial category as the Negroes.
Most of the mixed population greatly resented the American biracialism and felt
insulted by their new classification. The reminiscences of Arthur Mahlon Lindqvist, born of
substantial Danish ancestry toward the end of the 19th century, noted: "The American notion
that if you are not white you are a Negro did not exist at that time. Danes and natives lived
together, socialized, and intermarried." However, after he had finished his schooling and his
father inquired of an American acquaintance regarding a college for him, it was recommended,
to his family's surprise, that he should apply to Booker T. Washington's school to learn a
The new biracial consciousness affected every segment of the society. The remaining
Danes and other Europeans came to realize the transcendent importance of whiteness in
American society; some even began modification of their behavior to conform to American
customs. In order to avoid the possibility of humiliating incidents, mixed persons consciously
limited their social contact with Whites much more than they had during the Danish
The Negroes knew that in the local scheme of relationships their position was
practically unchanged, but many also realized that the Americans did not differentiate
between them and mixed persons to the extent that Danish custom had. In fact, a few dark-
skinned persons of ability were employed by the naval regime in positions that would probably
have been reserved for lighter-complexioned individuals during the Danish period. The new
order also gave promise of significant change for the French. It became known that some white
Americans, including the wife of a naval governor, were telling the French that their race gave
them superiority, which they should assert instead of accepting the lowly status to which they
had been relegated locally.19
In the economic sphere, as usual, there continued to be substantial relationships between
Whites and Blacks. Many of the new American families, in common with the older Europeans,
employed black servants of various kinds. A number of black women made a living by doing the
laundry, often at their own homes, of the naval personnel. Other black families were often
dependent on income sent by relatives who were in the employ of white families on the U. S.
mainland, to which there was an increasing migration. In ways such as these, many black
Virgin Islands residents, some of whom are still living, acquired a lasting consciousness of a
positive relationship between their well-being and the economic activities of Whites.20
The constant presence of American marines and sailors, and the fact of great economic
need, facilitated the practice of the oldest profession during the naval period. Additionally,
although there generally did not occur the long-term or open relationships that were common
during the Danish period, there were interracial liaisons which produced a number of mulatto
children. Such children generally received neither acknowledgement nor financial support
from their fathers, but, in a society with a white bias, their mixed appearance often worked to
their advantage in family matters and other social relationships.21
The best evidence regarding white American views of the majority of the islands'
population during the early years of American rule comes from dispatches sent to Washington
by the naval officers, in response to the local struggle for political rights. The first naval
governor, Rear Admiral James Oliver, wrote to the Director of Naval Intelligence that St.
Thomas labor leader Rothschild Francis was "a sort of half-witted negro apparently
without an occupation ... "22 The third naval governor, Rear Admiral Sumner Kittelle, wrote
to President Warren Harding: "I cannot too strongly urge that there be no change made in the
organic law until a full generation has elapsed ... and above all the white element must remain
in the land and in supreme control."23
In addition to the naval officials, some other white Americans who lived in the V. I.
during the naval period also advocated the retention of white supremacy in the islands. In
September, 1926, the Reverend Father Henry Whitehead, an episcopal clergyman who had
resided in the V. I., published an article on the mainland which was reprinted in the islands.
He warned against the lessening of voting qualifications and explained:
The V. I. "bad darky" is an agitator. He is in no sense a menace to white women and
girls, as is his confrere in the American South. He dreams of a V. I. future when black shall rule
in black's interest.24
Rothschild Francis, D. Hamilton Jackson, and other black leaders in the struggle for
political rights were frequently accused by naval officials and local persons of prominence--
white and black--of fomenting race hatred and of being "Reds," "Bolsheviks," "un-American,"
irreligious, and disrespectful. Every available means, from personal vilification to deportation
and imprisonment, was used to intimidate and frustrate the insistent black leaders. Even
though governmental acts were couched, as would be expected, in legal and administrative
terms, there was widespread realization among Blacks that their new American rulers viewed
them with contempt and that naval administration was a sad mistake.25
The only area in which the naval regime departed from its all-white character was in
the formation of a band of local black musicians, who were enlisted into the Navy. The
members received pay equal to that of similar Navy personnel, but they lived at home apart
from the white servicemen. The band, led by Alton A. Adams, became an important social and
economic institution and provided entertainment and culture through regular concerts. It was
also sent on a tour of the mainland to promote the reputation of the Navy in its administration
of the islands.26
During the naval period, a new ethnic group became part of the V. I. social fabric. To
that time, agricultural workers for St. Croix's sugarcane fields had been recruited mainly from
the British West Indies, particularly Barbados. However, new national legislation in 1924
prohibited the import of alien workers and caused V. I. officials to turn to Puerto Rico, due to its
common American status. In 1927 workers began migrating from Vieques to St. Croix, and by
1937, ten years later, over 4,000 Puerto Ricans had settled in the V. I. 27
The Puerto Rican migration also included non-agricultural workers, a number of whom
settled in St. Thomas during the late 1930s and early 1940s to work on military-related
construction projects. Indigenous V. I. residents had a number of early concerns about the Puerto
Ricans migration--its size, reports that Puerto Rican workers sometimes received greater pay
than natives for similar positions, the quickness with which Puerto Ricans moved into business
entrepreneurship and land acquisition, and a perception of greater-then-average incidents of
violence among Puerto Ricans. Notwithstanding the early misgivings, Puerto Ricans gradually
became important in every sector of V. I. society.28
The civilian governors of the 1930s tried to effect better relations with the islands'
black population than the Navy had done. Governor Paul M. Pearson solicited scholarships
from mainland colleges (largely black institutions) for local high school graduates and
promoted local employment in the administrative offices of the government. When he left
office in 1935, Blacks occupied 75% of such positions, as compared to only 10% in 1931.29
Notwithstanding such positive actions, certain aspects of the Pearson administration
were not at all conducive to good race relations. One of his pet projects, the establishment of the
Bluebeard Castle Hotel on St. Thomas in 1934, became distasteful to many on the knowledge
that it was being operated as a white-only resort. The practice was then imitated by other
hotels. Also, Pearson once held a reception at Government House for the officers of a visiting
German cruiser and did not invite any Blacks.30
Additionally, some of the leading members of Pearson's cabinet, imported by him from
the mainland, were outright racists. One such was Hamilton Cochran, the head of public
welfare. A book on the Virgin Islands, published by Cochran two years after Pearson left office,
testifies to the utter contempt with which he regarded the Blacks:
One might suppose that with the equitable climate and splendid environment
typical of all the Caribbee isles, their dusky inhabitants would be the most
delightful people on earth. Alas! they are not. They possess none of the lovable
traits of our own dark citizens below the Mason and Dixon line. American negroes
are famous for their sunny disposition, easy laughter, and happy-go-lucky
attitude toward life. The West Indian, however, while just as improvident,
seems to have shut the sun out of his soul.31
Cochran explained the "insolence" of Virgin Islands Blacks in a way that sheds light
on economic conditions of the 1930s;
S. West Indian negroes have gradually assumed more and more political and
economic power during the past fifty years, as white men have relinquished their
interests in the islands and have moved elsewhere in search of wealth.
In St. Thomas, for example, hardly any native American white men have
business interests on the island. Of the three richest merchants, two are
mulattoes and the third is a Latin American. The few white men in business are
This slow rise to power has naturally enhanced the negro's pride and ego to a
point where he actually believes that he should be permitted to rule his own
islands according to his own ideas. But ... it will evidently be a rather long
time before the negro is considered qualified to work out his own destiny
unaided by the white man's brains and money.32
Obviously, there were early civilian administrators who, like the Navy, were opposed
to the racial attitudes prevalent in the V. I. and wanted to bring them into greater conformity
with U. S. mainland patterns. Before its unmourned departure, however, the Pearson
administration did lay the groundwork for the Organic Act of 1936, which finally removed
economic qualifications for voting and thus assured future control of the legislative branch of
the V. I. Government by the black majority.
In 1940 a white American psychologist, Albert Campbell, spent eight months studying
social relationships on St. Thomas and wrote a monograph that remains invaluable for the
keenness of its perceptions. Campbell observed that Continentals, the term that was becoming
popular for Whites from the U. S. mainland, constituted a very small group; he estimated their
number in St. Thomas at less than 100. However, almost all of them held positions of prestige.
In 1938 one had even gotten elected to the St. Thomas Municipal Council and, in conjunction with
the native or older Whites of the islands, they were able to exert great influence. In
Campbell's opinion, those who acted with benevolence toward Blacks were very few. He
Most of them bring to St. Thomas the characteristics American attitudes toward
race, and while they do not feel free to express their prejudices in the
domineering manner they might regard as appropriate on the mainland, they
make an effort to avoid all unnecessary contact with the colored natives, no
matter what their intellectual or economic pretensions.33
Campbell noted that the older non-Continental Whites had somewhat different racial
attitudes and were able to mingle easily with other ethnic groups, particularly well-to-do
mixed persons. However, Whites, on the whole, resented the fact that political power was
changing hands, due to the recent Organic Act. Some Whites confided to Campbell that young
Blacks were refusing to treat them with the accustomed deference and that they (the Whites)
were looking forward to a period when white supremacy would be restored.34
In 1940 Jacques Schiffer, the Continental who was a member of the St. Thomas
legislature, went to Washington with a frightening tale of impending race war. He said that
Whites were arming and that he himself had hired a bodyguard. The Roosevelt
administration was alarmed and sent an agent to the V. I. to investigate. Schiffer's charges
were found to have been simply the product of an excitable mind in a racial atmosphere that
was new and threatening to him. However, the changes led to the end of the second civilian
administration. Governor Lawrence Cramer, himself a Continental but one who viewed the
social situation more objectively and calmly than Schiffer and thus knew that Schiffer's
charges were outrageously false, protested Washington's investigation so strongly that his
resignation was requested in December, 1940.35
Morris F. deCastro, a white Virgin Islander who was then serving as Commissioner of
Finance, assessed the Schiffer-inspired investigation in a private letter:
... Some newcomers who do not see why the Negroes should be given any special
consideration, or rather any consideration, at all, are out to get the Governor's
skin by any means. I have it from several sources that the race question is behind
this-particularly the dislike on the part of certain Americans to meet colored
persons like the Bornns etc. at Government House.36
Most of the islands' Blacks were not fully aware of the upper-level racial politics and
were hesitant to become personally involved in matters dealing with race. Campbell's research
found that many V. I. Blacks did not "recognize race prejudice when they encounter it; their
inclination is to interpret any discrimination as springing from class differentiation."37 Such
was the legacy of the Danish and West Indian cultural past.
By the mid 1940's, however, the transparency of a growing number of racial incidents
called for definite action. Several incidents had involved offensive behavior of white
servicemen stationed locally during World War II. And there was a growing white population
as a number of mainlanders who became acquainted with the islands during the war decided to
settle in them. Thus, in May, 1945, the Fifth Municipal Council of St. Thomas-St. John enacted
an "Ordinance to Determine the Right of All Persons to Enjoy the Facilities Offered by Public
Places and Businesses in the Municipality of St. Thomas and St. John and Other Purposes." It
prevented the denial of access, service, equal treatment, or employment in businesses that were
licensed or which solicited public patronage. An initial violation brought a fine or
imprisonment; a second risked loss of license. A year and a half later, in December, 1946, the
Legislative Assembly of the Virgin Islands (consisting of the joint Councils of St. Thomas-St.
John and St. Croix) acted likewise and passed an "Act to Provide Equal Rights in Places of
Public Accommodations, Resort, or Amusements," which became the law throughout the V. 1.38
The person who presided over the initial execution of the act had had a good deal of
experience with such matters. He was William H. Hastie, a mainland American who was
appointed in 1946 by President Harry Truman to become the V. I. 's first black governor. The
appointment was applauded by the local press, by prominent West Indian leaders such as
Norman Manley, and, of course, by mainland black and civil rights leaders. However, a number
of Whites and certain upper-class Blacks in the V. I. openly opposed the appointment. Cables
were sent to Washington asserting that the islands were not ready for a Negro governor and
that his confirmation would lead to catastrophe and ruin for the islands. Some of the protesters
felt insulted at the thought of being governed by a Black and believed it exemplified Truman's
lack of regard for the islands. Others were greatly concerned with its financial implications,
and argued that a black governor would be unable to procure as much Congressional funding as a
The achievements of the civil rights ordinance of 1946 were mixed. It brought to an end
certain blatant forms of discrimination, such as the refusal of hotels and restaurants to cater to
non-Whites. Other discriminatory practices continued; private all-white clubs, for example,
operated shamelessly. The St. Croix Country Club, which had always extended membership to
V.I. governors prior to Hastie, did not accord him that option. The Contant Club in St. Thomas,
at the site of the Estate Contant Greathouse, burned its by-laws, which had provided for the
Governor to be the Number One Honorary Member, when Hastie became governor.40
The 1950s, though unknown to most residents at the time, was really a watershed
decade in the history of race relations in the V. I. It was the last decade in which there
prevailed, despite the incidents and changes that have been discussed, the old style of non-
antagonistic, non-competitive race relations. Several signs in the year 1950 were predictive of
the changes that would follow that decade. One, the census of 1950 revealed that, for the first
time since the middle decades of the 1700s, the white population of the V. I. exceeded 10%. In
1917, it had been 7.4%, in 1940 9%, and in 1950 it was 11%. Some race relations studies have
shown that when an economically dominant group that was previously small attains a mass of
more than 10% in a society, substantial qualitative changes in race relations often follow.41
Other events in 1950 that portended the future included the opening in St. Thomas of
the Virgin Isle Hotel, the islands' first luxury hotel; the founding in St. Thomas of the Antilles
School, the V. I.'s first private school whose tuition was so costly that its student body was
largely white, in spite of being in a mainly black community; and the perceived necessity for
the Legislative Assembly of the V. I. to pass additional civil rights legislation the Harris-
Neazer-McFarlane Anti-Discrimination Act of 1950.42
What happened in the Virgin Islands after 1950 may be summarized by reference to
historian Franklin Knight's theory of the difference between settler and non-settler societies in
the Americas. Knight has argued that in the societies of the New World which Europeans had
regarded as "settler" areas for themselves and in which they became predominant in the
population, best exemplied by the U. S., the society came to be divided sharply along racial
lines. In "nonsettler" societies such as the islands of the West Indies, where Whites did not
envision themselves as living permanently in large numbers and in which they were only a
small percentage of the population, a more relaxed attitude developed toward race. Whites
who were only a small elite were forced by demographic conditions to think and act more
benevolently on racial matters.43
Whites who moved to the V.I. prior to and during the 1950s had tended to be retirees
and other relatively well-to-do persons and had formed a high-level entrepreneurial and
professional class in the society. By the end of the decade, however, Continentals of lower
socioeconomic levels started arriving and, by the mid-sixties, were competing with Blacks for
employment in areas such as middle-level government service, retailing, and construction,
which previously had been black preserves. The Virgin Islands were being transformed into a
"white settler" society, and the different racial attitudes of such societies were becoming
evident slowly but surely!44
The decade whose changes are often categorized as having been revolutionary was the
1960s. Concentration on rapid economic development promoted actions that transformed both
the economic and social bases of race and ethnic relationships in the V.I. St. Thomas was
promoted as the tourist haven supreme, featuring not only hotels but, beginning in 1962,
condominium complexes whose units could be purchased for full-time or part-time residency or
simply as economic investments.45 St. Croix became the industrial base, with the huge Hess
Oil and Harvey Alumina (later Martin Marietta) refining complexes.
The economy of the sixties attracted thousands of persons from the mainland, most of
whom were white, to fill the many professional, managerial, supervisory, and skilled positions
that the boom generated. However, to fill the accompanying need for construction, tourism, and
domestic laborers, an even larger migration to the V.I. took place from the other islands of the
eastern Caribbean. Despite the racial and regional similarities of the Caribbean migrants
with the majority of the indigenous V.I. population, the size of the influx prevented immediate
assimilation and set them apart as an economically and politically vulnerable ethnic group.
By 1970 Blacks from elsewhere in the Caribbean comprised one-third of the V.I.
population; Whites comprised over 18%.46
The governmental policies of the 1960s and the tremendous population growth they
generated affected ethnic relations in many areas. In public education, for example, a 1962
decision that all certified teachers had to have college degrees led to massive mainland
recruiting due to the local insufficiency of degree persons. As a result, the teaching staff of V.I.
public schools was transmuted from 10% continental in 1960 to over 50% continental in 1970,
with the majority of the continental teachers being white. A mainly black student body with a
substantially white teaching corps generated a number of problems. They included a high rate
of teacher turnover and common perceptions of decreased academic demands and a decline in
By the mid-1970s, the Department of Education was ready to admit that the mass
importation program had serious shortcomings and that teacher recruitment efforts should be
concentrated, to the greatest extent feasible and legally possible, on securing teachers who
possessed greater compatibility with the racial and cultural backgrounds of the majority of
The College (now University) of the Virgin Islands, which admitted its first students in
1963, was also an establishment with dissimilarity in the racial makeup of its extremely white
faculty and overwhelmingly black student body. The institution's president, Dr. Lawrence
Wanlass, was a white Continental, and the initial policy was to woo big-name professors from
the mainland, even if they could stay only for a limited time. Thus, from as early as 1967, a
federal audit criticized the high costs of the faculty turnover rate and wondered about its
educational effect. Additionally, locally-recruited faculty were sometimes compensated at
rates below continental faculty.49
The black majority of the student body greatly resented such policies and, like their
counterparts on the mainland, where the Black Revolution was in progress, became very active
in protesting issues perceived as racially discriminatory. Students denounced the racial
composition of the faculty, the perceived racism in the operation of the College's Hotel and
Restaurant Management program (which was suspended in the mid-1970s due to its increasing
failing to attract black students), and the growing concentration of V.I. economic power in the
hands of white Continentals.50
In 1968 a student association called the Black Cultural Organization was formed at the
College and shortly after started publication of a newspaper named "The Black
Revolutionary." The organization's officers had titles such as Prime Minister, Minister of
Defense, and Minister of Economic Affairs. A number of persons in the V.I. -- black and white -
considered the organization, and by extension the College, to be dangerous black power hotbeds.
Whites were especially alarmed. The New York Times, in a series of articles on the V.I. in
1969, reported erroneously that the group had "the stated aim of wrestling control of the
islands' commercial enterprises from white people."51
The zenith of racial protest at the College took place on Monday, December 11, 1972,
when a group of students took control of the institution's library, thus locking out the President
and other administrators (whose offices were located in the library). The cause was the
displeasure of some students with the threatened termination, unless there was an improvement
in performance, of a black professor who had been identified with black activism. After a day
of occupation, the students were routed from the library by tear gas; their cause failed, and
racial activism at the College greatly decreased. However, an undercurrent of dissatisfaction
about certain racial issues continued. A number of students, alumni, and other persons in the V.I.
felt that even though the College's president had done a generally creditable job of getting the
institution started and well-established, the time had arrived for different leadership. When
Dr. Wanlass left in 1978, suddenly and without explanation, it was felt that the racial issue
had played a role in his departure. His successor was Dr. Arthur Richards, a black Virgin
Even religious institutions reflected the increased racial polarization that was
transforming the V.I. during the 1960s. The Reformed Church on St. Thomas, for example, had
a continental pastor in the early sixties whose efforts to increase the size of the congregation
attracted a considerable number of Whites who were new to the island. As a result the church
became known as the "white church," to which white Protestants who moved to St. Thomas
were often directed, regardless of their previous denominational affiliations. Consequently, a
church such as the Methodist, with which some incoming Whites had been affiliated on the
mainland, remained all black despite the island's growing white population. As of 1975 the
Methodist Church in Charlotte Amalie, one of the largest congregations on St. Thomas with a
membership of about 900, did not have a single white member! In 1976, one white continental
family joined the church and remained its only white members through the mid-1980s.53
On the other hand, some reflective persons have charged that many churches and other
institutions in the V.I. were not active in reaching out to the newcomers and soliciting their
membership and presence in various activities.54 And, in another interesting twist of race and
ethnic relations in the V.I., it was not until the 1960s or 1970s that some major denominations in
the V.I. were assigned their first black pastors. But in some congregations, there were members
who experienced difficulty in adjusting to their leadership as centuries of missionary history
had instilled a bias toward white clergymen.55
The growth of Rastafarian and Muslim movements among young Blacks in the V.I. :rom
the late 1960s aggravated racial tensions. Rasta and Muslim converts were often very outspoken
on political and economic issues, with some even advocating independence from the U.S. as the
only realistic solution for the expanding control of the islands by Continentals. The Rastas also
gained a reputation for criminal activities such as praedial larceny and drug use.56
By 1970 the booming tourist and industrial economy had wrought a substantial
transformation of the V.I. The islands boasted the third highest per capital income in the
Western Hemisphere surpassed only by the United States and Canada. However, it was very
unevenly distributed. The 1970 per capital income for Whites in the V.I. was $5,269; for Blacks
$1,714. The 1970 V.I. population was over 100% greater than that of 1960; the once-dominant
native population black and white had become outnumbered by persons originally from
Business activities, except for taxi service and a few other relatively small enterprises,
were dominated by Whites. A 1970 study of St. Thomas-St. John showed that of 1,716
established businesses, 1,051 were owned by Continentals.58 Private employment, therefore,
rested largely with Whites and discrimination in that area became a burning race relations
Without doubt, Blacks in the V.I. suffered from the usual legacies of a slavery
background and post-slavery neglect. Many were lacking in advanced formal education and
technical skills and were not business or opportunity oriented. The issue for white employers,
therefore, was whether the black population would be considered as present but ignorable, or
whether its development would be an aspect of the entire process of the socio-economic growth
of the islands.
The record indicates that a number of Whites viewed non-white persons as unfit to enter
or to be treated equally in the new competitive economic order. There were cases of
discrimination in initial employment and promotion practices, in compensation, and on the part
of business that did not want non-Whites as patrons. Some offenders were small local
businesses. Others were affiliates of multinational corporations, such as the V.I. Telephone
Company, an ITT subsidiary, and a car rental agency which operated under a Hertz franchise.
In the latter instance, which involved a legal battle that lasted from 1969 to 1973, it was found
that the Hertz agency had preferred not to rent its cars to Blacks or Puerto Ricans and, when it
did, had charged them a $100 deposit for a one-day rental instead of the usual $25.59
Consequently, despite the fact that tourism was the mainstay of the V.I. economy and
that it was largely fuelled and directed by Whites, many Blacks, especially the young, ended
up developing deep resentment toward the industry and toward Whites for the discriminatory
practices with which both were associated. However, official governmental stance was to deny
or down play, as much as possible, the existence of race relations problems for fear of economic
It was, therefore, a profound shock but not a total surprise to observant persons when an
explosion took place on St. Croix. On Wednesday afternoon, September 6, 1972, eight persons,
seven of whom were white and four of whom were tourists, were shot to death at the clubhouse
of the Rockefeller-owned Fountain Valley Golf Club. The five young men, aged 21 to 25, who
were charged with the crime came from well-known black families. They were convicted after
a long and dramatic trial that involved prominent civil rights advocates from the mainland
and sometimes daily vigils by enthusiastic supporters of the defendants.60
The three or four years following the Fountain Valley tragedy were the nadir of race
relations in the V.I. During the post-Fountain Valley year, several white persons were
murdered on St. Croix. The V.I. Government was forced to ask the U.S. Department of Justice for
special assistance with the wave of murders. On St. Thomas, there was a spate of rumors among
the white continental population to the effect that all white-owned businesses would be burned
or that there would be a Kill-a-Whitey-a-day campaign or that a leaflet at the Charlotte
Amalie High School warned white teachers to leave by a certain date or else. The origins of
these rumors were usually unknown and none of them materialized.61
The murders and the rumors caused a great deal of panic and dread among the white
population. Whites were known to be buying firearms and preparing in other methods of self-
defense. A number of Whites decided to leave the V.I. Real estate prices fell, to the benefit of
some non-Whites who purchased homes they might not otherwise have gotten. There was a
general economic downturn, but the tense local situation was not solely responsible; the recession
on the mainland was a significant contributor.62
During the 1970s, the rising racial tensions and the newly-secured right of electing the
governor combined to inject strong and overt racial concerns into the V.I. political process.
Ralph M. Paiewonsky, who presided over the boom of the sixties, had predicted in 1966 that if
he chose to run for governor after the anticipated Elective Governor Bill was passed, "I would
be elected by a tremendous majority." However, by the time of the first gubernatorial election
in 1970, there had developed,, in the words of political pro Earl B. Ottley, "the prevailing
view that it would be unwise for Paiewonsky, or any other white, to become involved in the
race for governor."63
Many Blacks, cognizant of the increasing economic domination by continental Whites
and of the long history of the appointed governorship being reserved for Whites, felt that at
least the elective governorship should go to a black person.64 Blacks as a group, however, did
not generally vote along racial lines, and continued to elect white local legislators and a white
delegate to the Congress. In fact, the membership of the Seventeenth Legislature of the V.I.,
elected in 1986, is 40% white, Whites therefore being overrepresented relative to their
proportion of the V.I. population.
Analysis of the 1986 election returns, whose gubernatorial race propelled racial politics
to the highest pitch in the islands' history, revealed that black voters supported white
legislative candidates to a substantially greater degree than white voters supported black
candidates.65 Additionally, as almost all Whites are voters while a substantial proportion of
Blacks (the non-citizens from the Eastern Caribbean) cannot, the growing white vote is seen as
an increasingly significant factor in V.I. politics.
During the 1980s, the economy has been rebounding and there seems to be widespread
agreement that the Virgin Islands are presently in the initial phase of a boom period that
gives promise of surpassing all previous booms. The script is somewhat similar to those of boom
periods of the past, but at least some of the characters and props are different. For example, a
sizeable percentage of the retail trade of the V.I. is now in the hands of two new ethnic groups-
Indians and Arabs. And the hotel industry, with the partnership of real estate, is no longer
content simply to lure tourists to enjoy our sun, sand, and sea for a while; the apparent intent is
to turn all able tourists into V.I. property owners. Moreover, with the eclipse of the heavy
industrial enterprises on St. Croix, tourism reigns supreme as the V.I.'s economic king.
Today we have a population approaching 120,000, comprising a multiplicity of ethnic
groups--many more than in 1917. The majority is still black, even though it is a smaller
majority than in 1917 and, if present migration patterns continue, will become progressively
smaller. Politically, Blacks are divided by citizen and non-citizen status. By nativity, Blacks
may be subdivided into three groups--origin in the USVI, in other parts of the Caribbean, or on
the U.S. mainland. Those from elsewhere in the Caribbean comprise, as a group, the lowest
socioeconomic sector in V.I. society. However, intermarriages and other forces are serving to
promote unity among the black groups, as has also been the case with the white groups.
Puerto Ricans have become a relatively smaller proportion of the V.I. population (14%)
than they once were due to the coming of the more recent groups. And the 1980 census statistics
show that most Puerto Ricans now identify themselves as black even though there are sizeable
segments of the group who classify themselves as white or as neither black nor white
Whites may be divided into the two long-term native groups--the French, no longer
lowliest in social position, and the other European descendants--and the more recent arrivals
from the U.S. mainland. The Continentals have far surpassed the older two in numbers and in
The other easily identifiable ethnic groups in the V.I. today are of Asian ancestry: East
Indians, whose long history in the Caribbean has made them West Indian in culture; Indians
directly from Asia; Arabs from various Middle Eastern countries; and persons identified with
the Far East, the most numerous being those from the Philippines.
The pattern of race and ethnic relations that prevails in the Virgin Islands today, after
seventy years of U.S. rule, is quite similar to that of the sovereign power and is daily becoming
more so. Terms such as "mixed" are practically passe'; one is either black or white (except for
Asians, who are designated as "Other" in census reporting). Except for a small percentage of
persons and public events, social life is largely marked by racial separateness. Even in
activities which bring together persons of similar socioeconomic status, such as educational
institutions where white and black teachers have the same levels of formal education,
interracial relationships tend to be mainly professional and generally end along with the
It is not generally a topic of public discussion unless a disquieting incident takes place,
but there is a state of discomfort regarding race relations among the populace of the Virgin
Islands. Many Blacks are extremely dissatisfied with the group's disadvantaged economic
position in the society and fear worsening conditions as Whites attain greater numerical and
political power. Many Whites, especially Continentals, constantly fear for their possessions
and personal safety as they feel especially liable to be the objects of the wrath of frustrated
One of the saddest aspects of the recent race relations history of the Virgin Islands has
been the lack of truly strong and earnest leadership on the part of our political leaders, when a
more active and insightful role might have made a difference. Here are two examples. The
first widespread public discussion of the fact that race relations needed attention took place in
1961 because of an article published in U.S. News and World Report. It read:
Racial trouble is growing in the United States
Caribbean paradise, the Virgin Islands. The racial
trouble is being imported with U.S. citizens who
are moving there from the continent in growing
numbers-and bring their segregationist customs
with them.. The problem... is one of race.67
V.I. Governor Ralph Paiewonsky thought the article exaggeratory and accused the
writer of "looking for a needle in a haystack." Nevertheless, because of widespread local
concern and the national publicity generated by the article, Governor Paiewonsky appointed a
seven-member Commission on Human Relations to study the problems and report to him.
However, the Governor informed the Commission: "On the islands of St. Thomas and St. John,
there is no discrimination problem of any kind whatsoever. The whole work of this
commission, therefore, turns on the situation in St. Croix." Additionally, four of the
Commission's seven members were white (one of whom was a member of a segregated club in St.
Croix). The Commission never submitted a written report, but assured the Governor that
complaints had been satisfactorily resolved.68
By 1969 the ignored conditions were causing reverse concerns. A series of New York
Times articles highlighted the increasing verbal and physical attacks on Whites by young
Blacks. Governor Melvin Evans strongly protested the articles (which did contain some gross
exaggerations), saying that V.I. racial tensions were "very recent and minor. However, racial
attacks on Whites during the 1970 Carnival led to Governor Evans' realization that racial
matters did need attention. He thus appointed a seventeen-member Advisory Commission on
Community Relations (ten were black). But the Commission was given no administrative
support and became inactive without accomplishing anything. Fountain Valley erupted two
It is understandable that an administration would not want to deal with racial
problems. They are potentially explosive and extremely tough because the perspectives of
those involved differ so greatly. An informal study done in 1982 to discern the opinions of
Blacks and Whites in St. Thomas regarding the reasons for racial antagonism found that the
two groups listed factors in completely opposite order. Blacks thought the two most important
factors were (1) increasing white racism and black reaction to it and (2) increasing white
domination of the economy and black reaction thereto. Whites, quite differently, thought the
two most important factors in deteriorating race relations were (1) the influence of black Virgin
Islanders who had served in the military or had studied or worked on the mainland and (2) the
influence of U.S. Blacks who had moved to the V.I. and the black struggle on the mainland.
Each group thought that the reasons stressed by the other were supporting factors, but not the
primary explanations. Many Whites expressed difficulty in understanding the black
perception of white racism, and cited the facts of V.I. society and government being mainly
black as refutation. Many Blacks were surprised by the white belief that Blacks had simply
adopted racial strategies from elsewhere while lacking local justification for grievance.70
It is indeed ironic and tragic that, having had a way of life that had suggested the
titles of American Paradise and Showplace of Democracy, the Virgin Islands are now
threatened by the specters of having their historic racial majority overwhelmed and the
consequence of increasing racial violence. It was the opposite of these factors that had
furnished such a significant contrast between these islands and the unfortunate race relations
history of the great country of which they became a part in 1917. If we believe the differences
are worth preserving, it may not be too late to do so.
1. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of the Virgin Islands of the United States. 1917
(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918), p. 45.
2, Ibid., p. 71; Charles Edwin Taylor, Leaflets from the Danish West Indies (Westport, Connecticut:
Negro Universities Press, reprinted in 1970; originally published in 1888 by Wm.
Davison and Sons, London), p. 95; J. Antonio Jarvis, Brief History of the Virgin Islands
(St. Thomas: The Art Shop, 1938), pp. 201-202; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of the
Virgin Islands, 1917, p. 71.
3. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of the Virgin Islands, 1917, p. 45.
4. Albert A. Campbell, St. Thomas Negroes: A Study of Personality and Culture (Psychological
Monographs), Vol. 55, No. 5, Evanston, Illinois: The American Psychological Association,
Inc., 1943), pp. 26-28; Jarvis, Brief History of the Virgin Islands, pp. 89, 94-95; Interviews
with Clarissa Creque, St. Thomas, February 18, 1983 and Enid Hansen Frederiksen, St.
Thomas, February 24, 1983.
6. Reference to the Commission's finding may be found in Ezra A. Naughton, "The Origin and
Development of Higher Education in the Virgin Islands" (Unpublished Ph.D.
Dissertation, The Catholic University of America, 1973), p. 159.
7. Gordon K. Lewis, "The Myth of Danish Culture," Virgin Islands View, Vol. 1, No. 3 (August 1967),
pp. 14-22; Gordon K. Kewis, The Virgin Islands: A Caribbean Lilliput (Evanston, Illinois:
Northwestern University Press, 1972), pp. 38-41.
8. Based on conversation with several persons who were residents of St. Thomas at the time of the
transfer, specifically interviews with Arona Petersen, St. Thomas, February 24, 1983, and
Reginald Davis, St. Thomas, February 19, 1983.
9. Robert Skeoch (as told to Irene Armstrong), Cruzan Planter, (n. p., 1971), pp. 98-99.
10. Theodoore De Booy and John T. Faris, The Virgin Islands: Our New Possessions and the British
Islands (Westport, Connecticut: Negro Universities Press, reprinted in 1970; originally
published in Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1918), p. 71.
11. Campbell, St. Thomas Negroes, p. 82.
12. Charles Callan Tansill, The Purchase of the Danish West Indies (Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins
Presss, 1932), pp. 455, 473.
13. Lewis, The Virgin Islands, p. 51.
14. Mail Notes (St. Thomas, V.I.), July 11, 1925, p. 1.