Throughout February's celebration of Black History Month, we will feature a series of Virgin Islanders who have greatly contributed to and impacted the U.S. Black American Experience. Information provided by the VIDE's Division of Virgin Islands Cultural Education.
Happy Black History Month!
A) Dr. Charles W. Turnbull - When Charles Turnbull was elected Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, he became the territory's sixth governor. St. Thomas is the proud birthplace of our esteemed governor Turnbull. The Virgin Islands, as one of the United States' newest spaces in modern history, Turnbull understood the significance of recording the territory's experience with the 246-year history of the United States. Governor Turnbull attended public schools in the Virgin Islands, where Harlem Renaissance author and educator, Jose Antonio Jarvis, mentored him. Turnbull taught at and eventually became the principal of Charlotte Amalie High School after graduating from Hampton University; he was promoted to Assistant Commissioner of the Virgin Islands education system in 1967. Turnbull was an elected delegate to all five constitutional conventions, where he fought for more freedoms for the Virgin Islands and staunchly defended the islands' unique culture and history. Turnbull published a book about the controversial Virgin Islander Casper Holstein titled, Unusual Humanitarian, as part of his effort to record the untold experiences of black and brown people living in erased U.S. areas. A Harlem Renaissance figure, Holstein frequently donated to the Virgin Islands using questionable means. Nonetheless, Turnbull published his research through his perspective into the Harlem Renaissance icon's whole persona, enhancing our understanding of the black American experience as a Virgin Islander. To strengthen the study of the Virgin Islands' history and culture and include it in the school system, Turnbull established the Division of Virgin Islands Cultural Education during his tenure as Commissioner of Education in the Virgin Islands from 1979 to 1987. In 1998, Turnbull won the election as Governor of the Virgin Islands, a position he held until 2007. A cultural advocate and scholar, he has advanced discussions on the evolving identity of the Virgin Islands as part of the Black American experience. Turnbull passed away on July 2, 2022.
B) Frank Crosswaith - Nonstop migration to the Continental United States began in the middle of the nineteenth century, with many residents of the Virgin Islands settling in New York. This massive migration had multiple causes. There was a significant emigration of Danish West Indians to the United States for better education and employment before 1917. Such migration was later doubled by the United States 1917 annexation of the territory. The Virgin Islands Protective League and the Virgin Islands Congressional Council helped bring together Virgin Islanders in New York to rally in support of one another and charities to the territory. For the northern Black American labor movement, Frank Crosswaith, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro Labor Committee, was a pioneer. He was a longtime socialist politician, activist, and trade union organizer in New York City who founded and chaired the Negro Labor Committee, established on July 20, 1935 by the Negro Labor Conference. Crosswaith maintained a long association with union head A. Philip Randolph, serving with him as officers of the Negro Labor Committee in the 1930s and 1940s.In the early 1930s, Crosswaith worked as an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which became one of the major supporters of the Negro Labor Committee.
C) Olasee Davis - Professor Olasee Davis was born and raised in St. Croix, in the United States Virgin Islands, where he currently resides and maintains his academic and professional life. It was in 1998 that he helped start the St. Croix Hiking Association. Since then, his name has become synonymous with environmental activism and cultural and natural history on the island. At the St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, he works as an assistant professor and extension specialist. Professor Davis leads numerous groups of students, teachers, preservationists, and others on hikes into sacred grounds, where he relates the history of lands past. Professor Davis has recently used his advocacy to draw attention to the national level on the environmental tragedy of the loss of The Krause Lagoon, the largest wetland in the Virgin Islands, to industrial development and to advocate for greater transparency of industrial companies' responsibilities to the health of the residents, especially as national conversations of environmental degradation of black and brown communities are taken place. This is a complex discussion as much of the Virgin Islands economy, especially St. Croix, has long thought to hang on our refinery. In the Washington Post, a widely regarded national newspaper, Davis was featured in the article "The island where it rained oil." Davis boldly stated, "When it comes to the refinery, the refinery always gets its way." This is on the heels of the release of oil and water vapor into St. Croix neighborhoods, especially Clifton Hill and the south shore residents' water supplies and roofing spouts, as Davis proclaimed to the vast population on the continental U.S. The incident ultimately caused the Biden administration, local government, and environmental organizations to decide to shutter the refinery. Many national dialogues and studies have relied on Professor Davis' extensive writings on preserving black historical spaces and ecological degradation in black and brown communities.
D) Dr. Carlyle Corbin is an international advisor on governance. Corbin has served as the former Minister of State for External Affairs of the Virgin Islands of the United States Government, as well as a member of its former Political Status Commission and Advisor to its Fifth Constitutional Convention. in his career, Dr. Corbin has served as an international advisor, to the Premier of Bermuda, the Prime Minister of Curacao and the President of French Polynesia. Dr. Corbin has lectured extensively on governance and political development at Bermuda College, the University of the South Pacific, the University of Copenhagen, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of the West Indies. He is the author of two United Nations studies on the participation of non-independent countries in the United Nations system and numerous scholarly articles. Dr. Corbin analyzes the dehumanizing laws dictated to Pacific Islanders, Caribbean island nations, and especially the Virgin Islands of the United States through unified systems and ideologies. He has advocated on American television programming about inequitable citizenships and unfavorable laws imposed on the territory. He has been part of the faces on the United Nations floor engaging in politics of black and brown people to both U.S. leaders and International delegates.
E) Gloria Ida Joseph was a Virgin Islands academic that rallied Black studies and engaged in black, queer, and feminist activism for over 60 years. Ms. Joseph moved to New York as a child with her parents. According to sources. She was the great-niece of Virgin Islands-born and New York-based philanthropist and activist Casper Holstein. Ms. Joseph and her acclaimed life partner Audre Lorde lived on St. Croix for many years and even experienced hurricane Hugo, bringing about the award-winning publication, Hell Under God's Orders: Hurricane Hugo in St. Croix – Disaster and Survival. Joseph and Lorde were founding members of the Women Coalition of St. Croix and the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. Ms. Joseph's work includes the novel On Time and in Step: Reunion on the Glory Road and the bio anthology of Lorde, The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde. Joseph has co-authored "Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives" and many academic papers.
F) Tim Duncan - Born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands of the United States, Tim Duncan played 19 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and led the San Antonio Spurs to five championship season games. He was selected to play in 15 All-Star games. He won the Rookie of the Year award, two MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, and five NBA championships. Duncan desired to become a professional swimmer like his Olympic-participating sister. However, Hurricane Hugo devastated the island's Olympic-sized swimming pool, and shortly after that, Duncan began playing basketball, although he was not at the time popular. As a senior at St. Dunstan's Episcopal High School on St. Croix, he averaged 25 points per game after overcoming his awkwardness. His performance garnered the interest of numerous universities. Wake Forest University basketball coach Dave Odom became particularly interested in Duncan's talent. Duncan attended Wake Forest University based on his academic merit and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020. Duncan was voted Rookie of the Year in 1998. In 2004, Duncan attained his lifelong ambition of appearing in the Olympics, assisting the U.S. men's basketball team to a bronze medal at the Athens Games. He ranks among the top 15 NBA players in career points at his retirement. He rejoined the Spurs for the 2019–20 NBA season as an assistant coach. 2020 saw Duncan's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Duncan is also the youngest player on the Association for Professional Basketball Research's list of the "100 Greatest Professional Basketball Players of the 20th Century."
G) Elizabeth Anna Hendrickson - A forerunner in African-American politics during the Harlem Renaissance, Elizabeth Anna Hendrickson was once known as the First Lady of the Virgin Islands. She was also a leader in the League of American West Indian Ladies Aid Society and advocated for the Harlem tenants. She was a well-known street corner speaker and was involved in the struggles of the Harlem Tenants League in the 1920s. Harlem was a black metropolis, and West Indians were part of a larger, more Pan-African demographic group. Of the Caribbean immigrants, Virgin Islanders knew more about the U.S. and its discrimination against blacks due to the colonization of the Danish Islands in 1917. With Ashley L. Totten she formed the Virgin Islands Protective Association, which aimed at addressing the mistreatment of those in their homeland.