Black History Month
By Carol Bareuther
February's designation as Black History Month offers a wonderful opportunity to focus on the achievements of black men and women throughout history. While this month-long observance was officially designed by the U.S. Congress in 1986, its celebration dates back much further in the U.S. Virgin Islands, says Frandelle Gerard, executive director at Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Inc. (CHANT). "Remembering the lives and works of famous Virgin Islanders is something that has occurred since the 1960s and before," says Gerard. "Nowadays, the Governor will issue a proclamation designating February as Black History Month and local dignitaries and historians will primarily visit the schools to teach the students about the achievements of famous Virgin Islanders."
St. Croix is home to a number of famous black native sons who have made their mark on the islands and the world in areas ranging from politics to art and sports.
Ashley L. Totten, born in Frederiksted (1884-1963), moved to New York City as a young man where his deep spiritual and humanitarian beliefs led him to assist in the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that protected black railway porters from unfair labor practices and advocated for their civil rights. Totten was recognized by President Harry S. Truman who appointed him to the board of directors of the VICorporation, an entity that oversaw the island's electrical power, salt water distillation facilities, production of sugar cane, and management of Navy-owned buildings.
Fellow islander, Casper Holstein, was born in Christiansted just eight years prior to Totten. Holstein, too, left for New York City, but he never lost touch with home. After the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917 and the Navy ruled, Holstein successfully lobbied for a Delegate to Congress for the territory.
Roy Innis (1934- ), a St. Croix-born African-American civil rights activist, has served as National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) since his election to the position in 1968.
A number of professional athletes call St. Croix their birthplace. One is Horace Clarke (1940- ), who was born in Frederiksted and played for the New York Yankees. He was honored by the Virgin Islands' Legislature in 1970 and today he is a spring trainer for the Kansas City Royals. Another famous native athlete is Timothy 'Tim' Duncan (1976- ), a four-time National Basketball Association champion and 13-time NBA All-Star who plays for the San Antonio Spurs.