History can be a wonderful tool to explain the current difficulties on St. John. Contrary to the National Park Services visitor information plaques at Annenburg ruins, St. Johnians were not willing workers on the rum plantations. They were slaves brought in shackles to the Caribbean and forced under the most cruel and sadistic regimes to do the white planter's bidding. As a black person visiting Annenberg, I often feel as if I were visiting Auschwitz. I consider it hallowed ground, stained with the blood of a courageous people who did rise up and revolt only to be suppressed again.
I often feel that St. John and Fredericksted are the true center of indigenous Virgin Island culture because they are the sites of the slave revolts and the great fire burn. The souls of Yoruba, Fulani, and Ashanti warriors burn brightly there! Virgin Islanders have paid for their land with blood, more blood, sweat, tears, insult and colonialism. Their rights to that land are similar to Native Americans living on reserves and reservations. I think that in this enlightened day and age we all would recognize what an injustice it would be if rich folks descended on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and started buying up all the land and putting up $1 million dollar plus homes. We would quickly find ourselves fighting Indian wars part two.
I lived on St. Croix for seven years in the seventies. I saw the enormous upheaval that resulted from outrageous growth. At that time St. Croix was experiencing the fastest population growth on the planet. (See the "Book of List"). We grew from 8000 people in 1965 to 80,000 in 1975. Folks were coming from all over the world to work at Hess and Martin Marietta. Immigration was unchecked and the feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement of local Crucians resulted in resentment and violence. The entire infrastructure fell apart and the delivery of services suffered. Although 500 federal marshals occupied the island, the murder rate exceeded Detroit. And when the smoke cleared it was the indigenous Virgin Islander who was left, and a whole lot of other folks moved. It took a long time for the island to heal itself and some say that it hasn't yet.
When I left St. Croix I returned to my hometown, Cambridge, Massachusetts. For a while we had rent control, which capped the amount of money that landlords could charge for an apartment. Rents and home prices stabilized. Then rent control was overturned. My rent went up 400%. My parent's home that they had purchased in 1947 for $6000 sold last year for $960,000. The neighbors made a killing, but had to leave the area. The greed of realtors, bankers, and speculators had made it impossible for us to live there. I moved to Maine, but the last I saw there was no increase on the size of St. John so where are St. Johnians going? You also need to control the realtors, bankers, and speculators. The state of Vermont has a sales tax of 80% of the profits of the sale of that land if it is sold within a two-year period. That slowed down speculators. That money goes into a fund to provide affordable housing. You cannot allow the taxes to rise for locals so that they're forced to sell their land. This is shameful!
A few years ago, on a visit to St. John, I saw the seeds of the present problems start to germinate. I ran into some of my New England neighbors, and they informed me of their desire to settle on the island. I was appalled at their ignorance of the culture and history of St. John but even more disturbing was their arrogance of their place on the island. I counseled them to defer to Native Virgin Islanders and let them take the lead. Continentals (or folks from "away" as we call them here in Maine) cannot come in and "strut your stuff" and "take over" just because you have money, education, and status. You see Virgin Islanders also have money, education, and status too, and to set up your own enclaves, social structure and economy means that the lessons of history haven't been learned. The integration of everyone into the Virgin Island culture means an enhancement of the quality of life for everyone, we can learn a lot from each other and together we can move forward. Virgin Islanders will never forget their history or their roots; it's time to listen to them before it's too late.
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