The Legislature is honoring former ferry owner, boat captain and V.I. Sen. Bingley G. Richardson Sr. with a resolution that was approved in committee Thursday.
Sen. Myron Jackson introduced the measure to the Culture, Historic Preservation and Youth Committee, saying that along with his business and political success, Richardson was active in the "free beach" movement, working to get legislation to rollback the closing off of hotel beaches from black V.I. residents.
Richardson was also a major local supporter of the Pan African movement and a one-time candidate for lieutenant governor, but his greatest accomplishment was spearheading the V.I. government’s purchase of the West Indian Co. Ltd., Jackson said.
Historian, activist and musician Glen "Kwabena" Davis said Richardson’s work on the free beach movement was an important contribution to the civil rights and quality of life of black V.I. residents. Before the Legislature enacted a law declaring a public right to access to all beaches and shorelines, Richardson organized people against the "brazen discriminatory practices of major hotels with their whites only attitude to use their beaches," Davis said.
Richardson’s first son, Bingley G. Richardson III, spoke to the committee about the life and accomplishments of his father, saying his father would have liked to have been there, but was unable due to health concerns.
Born in Savan on St. Thomas, Richardson attended high school both on St. Thomas and in the Bronx, N.Y. He developed an interest in mechanics and aviation, and later served in the U.S. Air Force. In 1968 Richardson returned to St. Thomas, where he held positions in the V.I. Department of Housing and Health. He also began fishing as a supplement to his income.
Later Richardson left government service and got a Coast Guard certification to operate 100-ton, then later, 500-ton vessels and worked for a ferry service.
In 1978 Richardson bought one of the ferries and became an independent operator. His son said Richardson ran daily ferry services between downtown Charlotte Amalie and Tortola including special trips to Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke with charters to St. Croix and Anegada.
He also opened the Tortola Wharf Bar & Restaurant, which specialized in local cuisine.
Richardson successfully ran for a senator in 1986 and, after reelection in 1988, he served as vice president of the 17th Legislature. He testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, authored legislation and chaired a commission to create the territorial seal that is used today and, in 1990, he ran for lieutenant governor unsuccessfully as running mate to former Gov. Juan F. Luis.
Richardson was reelected for a third Senate term in 1992 and served as president of the Legislature.
After leaving the Legislature, Richardson started piloting barges that were given to the V.I. government by the U.S. Army and ran weekly routes between St. Thomas and St. Croix carrying government supplies.
Then Richardson was recruited by the British Virgin Islands government and became marine manager and security officer for the BVI Port Authority, where he developed a comprehensive port security plan that ensured all ports and harbors for each of the British Virgin Islands met U.S. readiness standards.
Richardson is a certified scuba diver and an aquatic instructor. He also was the director of the Sea Explorers program and the associate director of Aquatics Northeast Region Camping School for the Boy Scouts of America.
He also produced, directed and narrated several educational films on V.I. history and culture.
In 2007, Richardson traveled with a contingent of Pan Africanists and other Virgin Islanders to Ghana in recognition of its 50th year of independence.
The resolution to honor Richardson was sent out of committee without opposition. Voting for the measure were Jackson, Sens. Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis, Kenneth Gittens, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Tregenza Roach. Sen. Sammuel Sanes was absent.
Later the committee discussed the potential of drag racing as a business in the territory, including finding a location for drag racing on St. Thomas and the need for upgrades to the St. Croix racetrack.
Supporters of finding a place for drag racing on St. Thomas cited the problem of illegal races and the potential to give more young Virgin Islanders something productive to do with their time.
“Drag racing continues to be an issue on a nightly basis,” Jackson said. “What we will attempt to do today is to come to some resolution with the Department of Property and Procurement, who over the course of the last 50 years or more has had some engagement with the acquisition of property and have played some role in identification of real estate for this sporting activity in the district of St. Thomas/St. John," he said.
Property and Procurement Commissioner Randolph Bennett said, “Downtown continues to suffer economic hardship brought on by fierce retail competition from category killers large discount stores and regional shopping centers. What we are doing by revitalizing our downtown center is vitally important to the economic growth of the territory."
Public Works Commissioner Gustav James said contracts with Tip Top Construction should be finalized within the week, and work should begin a few weeks after that. The planned work includes new lighting, designed to mimic historical fixtures; laying cobblestones, new sidewalks, drainage work and putting utilities underground, James said.
Jackson asked if the work would be complete by March 2017, when the territory commemorates the centennial of the transfer from Denmark to the U.S.A.
James said the timeline is very close, but "the important parts should be complete by that time."