Group Title: Olasee Davis articles
Title: Congress supported homestead program; started 1932
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Title: Congress supported homestead program; started 1932
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Davis, Olasee
Publication Date: March 6, 1998
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Bibliographic ID: CA01300919
Volume ID: VID00201
Source Institution: University of the Virgin Islands
Holding Location: University of the Virgin Islands
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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The Day News, Friday, March 6,199 21

Congress supported homestead program; started 1932

This second column about the
homestead program on St Croix
will focus on how the U.S. Congress
addressed unemployment on the
With the collapse of the sugar
industry on St. Croix in the 1930s,
there was mass unemployment Those
who had money went to the United
States. Everyone else looked for
work. Believe me, St. Croix and the
Virgin Islands as a whole were eco-
nomialy devataed in dhe 1930s.
This simply came about because
of an economic monoculture sys-
tem. Of course, natural disasters
such as droughts played a role in
the decline of the sugar industry on
St. Croix. But the economic system
then was built mainly on one thing
Today we are not much different
- only, tourism has replaced sugar
as our No. 1 industry. Hurricanes,
crime, environmental degradation
and a global economy will definite
ly impact the fragile tourist-driven
economy now and beyond the year
2000 in the Virgin Islands.
It was Herbert D. Brown, chief
of the Bureau of Efficiency, whom
the U.S. Congress asked to prepare
a plan to rehabilitate the islands'

economy. Brown spent weeks in the
islands talking to the rich and poor
Labor leaders D. Hamilton Jack-
son and Ralph de Chabert, with
whom Brown spbke, were strong
advocates of breaking up the large
estates on St. Croi to create bome-
steads. After returning from the
islands, Brown argued to Congress
that the because the lands on St.
Croix were in the hands of only a
few individuals and corporations,
economic stagnation and social
atrophy plagued the island.
Thus he persuaded Congress to
support and implement the home-
stead program on St. Croix as a
basis to revitalize the island econo-
my. The naval administration that
governed the islands tried to stop
the homestead programs from
becoming a reality. Obviously, that
administration didn't have the best
interest at heat for these islands.
However, God was on Brown's
side, and the naval administration
was soon replaced by a civil gov-
crnmeot in the Vuirgin Islands, head-
ed by Paul M. Pearson. Brown's
homestead program plan called for
the federal government to purchase
thousands of acres from the fertile


Bethlehem Estates and resell it to
the people as medium-sized farms.
Brown strongly believed the
homestead program would facilitate
islanders' transition from dependent
laborers to independent farmers
who were fully self-supporting, pro-
ducing their own sugar cane and
other crops and raising their own
livestock. Brown also proposed to
establish an agricultural school and
a technical assistance program for
the farmers.
In fact, at the old agricultural
experiment station at Estate Anna's
Hope, there was an agriculture
school that included a veterinary
school and other areas relative to
agriculture. Brown believed that the
homestead federal initiative pro-
grams would jump-start the shift
away from an unjust economic sys-
He hoped the program would

replace the plantation system with a
broader, diversified agricultural
economy. He also believed the pro-
gram would make St. Croix widely
self-sufficient in food production,
which "provides the essential eco-
nomic underpinning of a truly
democratic society."
While many black Virgin Island.
ors hailed Brown's homestead plan,
Gov. Pearson waslman less enthusi-
astic about the plan because of
associates who had little faith in the
working class and wanted to main.
tain the status quo.
There was much debate about
the homestead program. Gov.Pear-
son rejected" ... the idea of medi-
um-sized farms in favor of a pro-
gram based on undersized, over-
priced plots that would force the
homesteaders to grow cane and
work part-time off their landhold.
ings," stated local historian George
The Pearson administration
implemented a homestead program
designed to keep the status quo
rather than supplant the old slave
plantation system. -
In 1932 the homestead program
got underway with the purchase of
1,145 acres on Whim Estates and

712 acres on La Grande Princesse
Estate. The two estates were divid-
ed into 267 plots ranging from 3 to
10 acres each through a lease-pur-
chase contract system. A few years
later the federal government pur-
chased additional land at Estate
Colquhoun, ML Pleasant and Estate
St John.
The municipal government of St.
Croix acquired land for homestead-
ers on Northside Estates and Estate
Rattan. Overall, 3,000 acres were
sold in plots at an average of 7
acres each to 425 municipal and
federal homesteaders. This was not
a giveaway program. Rather,
receiving title of the land, home-
steaders signed a lcase-purchase
contract with principal interest paid
out over a 20-year period.
They had to sweat and toil
before the land became theirs.
Those who failed to make annual
payments were evicted.
Next week's column will focus on
homesteaders at work on SL Croix.
OlmeeDmVi who has a master
ofsdece degree in range manage-
ment and forestry ecology, is a St
Croix eclogis activist and writer.

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