Feb. 22, 2005 V.I. National Park's 14th annual Folklife Festival kicked off Tuesday with busloads of school children, dozens of visitors and a good smattering of local residents enjoying the event at Annaberg Plantation.
The Folklife Festival continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
Park ranger Denise Georges said she was expecting about 700 students to attend.
This year's focus was on boat building. St. John shipwrights Mark Hanson and Les Anderson and Watson White of Anegada were on hand to explain their craft.
"I make the sails too," White said as Moonbeam, a 21-foot boat he built on Anegada, bobbed just offshore.
He said he learned the skill from his father, who learned it from his father.
Park Superintendent Art Frederick, in his opening remarks, urged the students to use the event as a glimpse into their past.
"It's about your heritage. Try to walk away with a bit more knowledge than when you arrived," he said.
Leonard Richardson, assistant principal at Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas and a shipwright, was the featured speaker.
He had lots of information to impart, including the way stories came down through generations.
"We did not get information from the dead leaves of a book. It came from lips to ears," he said.
Several craftspeople set up shop on top of Annaberg Plantation's horse mill. St. Thomas resident Gwendolyn Harley was there with her handcrafted dolls. She said she's been making dolls for nearly 25 years.
St. Thomas resident Terry White also makes dolls and other toys. However, she sees crafts like hers as a dying art since only a few students are interested in learning the tradition.
St. Thomas resident Bridgette Julius had colorful cards, trivia books, coloring books, and other handcrafted items for sale.
The cards were decorated with bits of fabric to give them dimension. One set came with a vial of body oil. Julius also offered pencils topped with fabric mocko jumbies.
Julius said that while she expected to sell some of her wares, she was there to explain to the students how she made her products.
"I'll tell them how to use what you have," she said.
Students from several different schools on St. Thomas made the trip across Pillsbury Sound to visit the event.
Montessori student Martin Dukes, 15, said it was the first time he'd ever visited Annaberg Plantation.
He said he came for history, facts, art, and food.
Northampton, Mass. resident and Cinnamon Bay Campground visitor, Emma Cutler, 13, was among the numerous tourists who attended the Folklife Festival.
"I thought it would be fun to look around at all the stuff," she said as she and her family made the rounds.
The Rev. Ralph David Abernathy III was also one of the visitors. He had originally been scheduled to speak, but said he came only to see what the festival was about.
Abernathy's visit to the territory was the subject of controversy after the Souce reported that he had been in jail twice. (See "Abernathy to Speak in V.I. Despite Checkered Past").
He was convicted in 1999 on 18 counts that included forging vouchers for reimbursements in the amount of $5,700 when he was a Georgian state senator.
In November 2002 he went back to jail to finish out his sentence because he violated his parole by taking $35,000 from two women who paid him to hire an attorney in hopes of getting their loved ones out of jail.
He also had a string of other brushes with the law.
Abernathy said Tuesday he expects to speak at territorial schools and in Emancipation Garden on St. Thomas.
When asked how he turned his life around after getting out of jail in October 2003, he said "my life wasn't that bad to start with."
"My life wasn't messed up," he said.
He called his 10 years in the Georgia Senate "illustrious" because he had 10 pieces of legislation passed. He was not allowed to run again in 1998 because he bounced a $400 check required to qualify for the election.
Abernathy, son of acclaimed civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy Sr., said he owns a string of gas stations, a company that deals with automobile emissions, and real estate.
He said he is in the midst of organizing his foundation and is attending graduate school to advance his ministerial studies.
It remains unclear who paid for Abernathy's trip to the Virgin Islands. Although the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and the park had planned to pay for his trip, Frederick said several weeks ago that the park couldn't afford the expense. LEPC withdrew its financial support after information about Abernathy's checkered past surfaced.
Abernathy said he didn't know who was footing the bill.
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