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HomeNewsArchivesBlack History Spotlight: Ludvig E. Harrigan

Black History Spotlight: Ludvig E. Harrigan

Feb. 28, 2009 — Meet Ludvig E. Harrigan, a successful entrepreneurial craftsman, family man and labor leader who succeeded in improving the conditions of workers and laid the foundation of modern V.I. labor law.
Born in Christiansted in 1894, Harrigan traveled widely when young, returning to Christiansted to raise a family, foster a career and work in the community and his local church.
He attended public elementary school on St. Croix until 1906, but his family sent him to Cuba to continue his education and he graduated from Grant High School in Guantanamo, Cuba, in 1911.
After serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I, Harrigan moved to New York City, becoming vice president of the V.I. Congressional Council for 10 years, until 1932.
Though living in New York, Harrigan met and married Mildred C. Faris of Charlotte Amalie in 1932 and had two children, Ludvig Harrigan Jr. and Ruth M. Harrigan Beagles. Beagles retired a few years ago as principal of Pearl B. Larsen Elementary after a long career in St. Croix education, and lived on St. Croix.
When he left the V.I. Congressional Council, Harrigan extended his foray into politics and letters, editing The Federation, a monthly publication featuring news of Virgin Islanders in New York City. In 1935 he served on the La Guardia Interracial Committee.
Then, married and with two young children, Harrigan decided it was time to come back to St. Croix and raise a family. He came back in 1937 with, his son believes, orders from Casper Holstein to help distribute a boatload of hurricane relief. A skilled craftsman, Harrigan opened a cabinetmaking shop in Christiansted, and to this day beautiful mahogany furniture he made is still used in homes on the island. He built one of the altars in the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted.
As a father, Harrigan demanded good comportment, Beagles recalled.
"He held high standards for all of us in terms of speech," she said. "Both English and Spanish had to be spoken at a high level. He did not want Creole spoken in the home, because it is not standard English. He expected us to be kind and polite and to show respect to others, especially to seniors."
While her father fought hard for better pay and conditions for laborers, he also urged workers to give a full day's work for a full day's pay.
"If you are doing a job, you should do it to the best of your ability so you promote and improve whatever you do," Beagles said. "Some people can, say, be working in a restaurant as a waiter and not give it their best, just do the minimum, or give it their best so people want to come back, which supports the industry. My father believed you should always do your best."
During World War II, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harrigan was an information specialist for the Office of Price Administration.
"During the war, grocery stores were obligated to adhere to the rationing and use of coupons," Harrigan's son said in a conversation recorded and transcribed by Beagles in 1994. Harrigan both redeemed the ration coupons and held federally sponsored Fireside Chats, where residents would turn out the lights and go outside to listen to the president on the radio, listen to public announcements and speeches and see movies.
Having the lights out and the radio outside was justified as a wartime precaution to avoid the risk of having homes targeted during the broadcast.
It was "a big PR thing of the FDR administration," Harrigan Jr. said. "Everyone was made to feel a part of the war by simulating some of what was taking place in the war zones."
"Back to Bataan" was one of the movies Harrigan used to show, his son said.
His role in the Fireside Chats made Harrigan a well-known figure and may have launched his political career, according to his son.
Taking over from the iconic D. Hamilton Jackson, from 1946 until his death on May 10, 1951, Harrigan served as president of the St. Croix Labor Union. When he took over, the union was in financial trouble. But Harrigan persuaded local banks to forgive the unions' loans, revitalizing the union.
As union leader, he led strikes that resulted in wage increases.
"The longshoremen were by and large the strongest and most vocal group in the union," Harrigan Jr. said. "The sugarcane workers, making 40 cents a day, were exploited, but were not as vocal. Dad called two strikes of the longshoremen, the ships sat out in the harbor, the cargo stayed on the ships, which was not good for the Merwins, Moorheads and other business people. … He then tackled the sugarcane workers, got higher wages for them."
Seeking historical information, Beagles interviewed Renholdt Jackson, who worked at VICORP when Harrigan was head of the labor union. A strong advocate for local control, Harrigan warned that outsiders would come and take all the beach and hillside land with views if nothing was done to prevent it, Jackson said.
"He was also responsible for the wage-and-hour bill and workmen's compensation," Jackson said. "I remember as a young guy going to school we didn't have a workmen's compensations bill here on St. Croix. St. Thomas had it. …"
In the 1940s, there were two legislative bodies called municipal councils, one for the island of St. Croix, the other for St. Thomas/St. John. Both met in Charlotte Amalie as a joint body known as the Legislative Assembly. Harrigan was elected candidate-at-large to the St. Croix Municipal Council and served two full terms, 1947-1950. He died in office during the fifth month of this third term. He was chairman of the St. Croix Municipal Council in 1947 and 1949, and chairman of the Legislative Assembly in 1947.
He was a member of the Selective Service Board during World War II and post adjutant of the American Legion. He was captain of the Home Guard in the 1940s. They were a precursor to the National Guard and drilled before audiences at important public events.
Politically minded, Ludvig Harrigan was a Democrat. He was also a member of the Lord God of Sabbath Lutheran Church and served on the church council of that congregation for many years.
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