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Dollar fo’ Dollar Tour Goes Digital

Participants in the 'hurricane survivor edition' of the annual Dollar fo’ Dollar tour gather outside the Legislature building. (David Knight Jr. photo)
in 2017, participants in the ‘hurricane survivor edition’ of the annual Dollar fo’ Dollar tour gather outside the Legislature building. (Source photo by David Knight Jr.)

The banning of social functions and gatherings around the country due to COVID-19 concerns has affected everything from sporting events to concerts. So too has it affected educational experiences.

This year, St. Thomas’ celebrated Dollar Fo’ Dollar tour is going the way of many museums and art galleries and will be hosted entirely online.

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the Dollar fo’ Dollar culture and history tour. The tour commemorates the successful labor strike of St. Thomas coal workers on Sept. 12, 1892. At the time, local coal workers toiled under grueling conditions, toting 90-pound baskets of coal to and from the steamships all day.

The workers were paid in Mexican silver, which had a diminishing value compared to Danish coin. One of the workers, Queen Coziah, organized the massive strike and led some 700 laborers down the streets of Charlotte Amalia to Government Hill, where they demanded “dollar for dollar” Danish silver per day. The sheer size and intensity of the crowd forced the local government and steam companies to meet their demands, and gathered workers dispersed that day without violence.

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Tour co-founder Ayesha Morris said she once saw an old photograph of a female coal worker struggling under a huge basket of coal and was inspired by her strength.

“I wanted to help build something that commemorated that strength, and highlight not only the strike but the hard work these people did,” Morris said.

With collaborators Jaweh David and Dara Cooper, Dollar Fo’ Dollar was born; a cultural fete that incorporates dancing, storytelling and sight-seeing into a fun interactive learning experience.

Morris sees the tour as a “piece of living history” and as such it changes a bit from year to year.

Previous iterations have included a walk through the historic neighborhood of Savan and Emancipation Garden. The tour even took to the water in 2018, when everyone boarded the Kon Tiki to showcase the waterfront and Hassel Island, where many of the original steamers came through.

In normal times one might see a jovial crowd of some 200 people walking the streets of downtown. Many might be clad in the traditional garb of the 1800s coal workers. There might be bamboula dancing and music, and the blowing of conch shells.

But these are not normal times, and with the social distancing measures put in place by the V.I government, a crowd size the tour normally brings is not possible. The organizers have had to get creative and, for the first time, will host the entire Dollar Fo’ Dollar History Tour online. The tour will be accessible from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 26 through Zoom and Facebook live.

Morris said she is excited to see what an online culture tour like this will look like.

“All the usual components of the tour will be there, plus a few extras,” she said. The tour this year includes bamboula steps and drumming classes, genealogy and headwrap workshops, some oral narratives by noted historians, and much more.

The St. Thomas and St. John carnivals were largely online this year and the same may happen with St. Croix’s Crucian Christmas Festival.

People involved in history and the arts also are adapting to remain accessible to the public. Local historian and Dollar Fo’ Dollar contributor Nadine Marchena Kean sees events like these as vital to keeping a sense of cultural identity alive.

“I want to change the way we learn history – through stories instead of dates,” Kean said. “Many people, especially our young people, don’t realize that they have ancestors that participated in the strikes, and can trace their name back to the participants.”

More information can be found on the Dollar fo’ Dollar Facebook page.

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