Aug. 15, 2008 — Since Tuesday morning, Shelley Moorhead and varying numbers of supporters have been camped out on the steps of Government House in Christiansted, trying to pressure the administration of Gov. John deJongh Jr. to raise the issue of reparations for slavery when he visits Denmark in November.
Moorhead, founder of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance (ACRRA), has been at the door of Government House all day and night for the last four days. At times, the gathering has swelled to more than a dozen folks waving signs, drumming, chanting, smiling and talking. During the first few days especially, cars honked in solidarity as they passed through town.
"We are here and we are going to stay here and inform the people," Moorhead said. "We are grateful for the overwhelming support. A woman brought me a tarp when it was raining. The folks at Lalita Cafe brought some wholesome fresh squeezed juice. We've been beating the drum and blowing the conch shell in the street. I'd say seven in 10 cars honked to show the support in the community for reparations in the Virgin Islands."
Moorhead and ACRRA advocate dialogue about the history of slavery and the issue of reparations as well as reparations themselves.
"In a day and time when we have Barack Obama inspiring hundreds of millions of people in the race for the White House," he said, "when it seems everywhere we are becoming more open and apt to discuss these historic issues of race and ethnicity, there should be no exception in the Virgin Islands."
ACRRA has a list of concerns they would like the V.I. government to address. Foremost is for deJongh to discuss the issue with the public before traveling to Denmark in November and raise it with Danish officials during the visit.
"For the governor and delegate to Congress to travel from the former Danish West Indies, where there is a history of 250 years of colonization and 176 years of the brutal and dehumanizing Danish institution of African slavery, it is unthinkable that we would not first as a government and a people sit down and discuss what reparations means for us as a people," Moorhead said. "During the visit, he should at least raise the issue and open a discussion."
According to Moorhead, David Edgecombe, a special assistant to the governor, said in July a V.I. Government policy on reparations would be forthcoming. ACRRA wants to see a policy issued.
Lastly, ACRRA wants the release of about $35,000 appropriated by the Legislature and signed by deJongh last year, for ACRRA's own visit to Denmark for reparations discussions (See: "Reparations Group Waits on Government Funds for Denmark Trip.")
"Our funds appropriated by the Legislature have been withheld since October of 2007," Moorhead said. "It's not a lot of money and it is misleading to the people of the Virgin Islands to think this course of action is about money. It is about ACRRA's mission."
While Moorhead said no one from the government has spoken with him yet, there has still been a lively discussion on the steps of Government House.
"Last night, there was such a warm feeling, with so many people coming to sit with us for talk and discussion," he said. "Three white college students sat down with us: one in pre-med, one a biology major and another student who was on their basketball team. They said to me they learned more in that hour of discussion than in all of their academic exams on history. Two brothers from the Arab community came and joined us last night as well. Everybody; the elderly, the young, some Chinese folks, all parts of the community were here and reparation were being supported on King Street in front of Government House. "
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