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7 Virgin Islands History Lessons from 7 Elected Officials

St. Thomas — Black History month is upon us, and elected officials from the U.S. Virgin Islands are breaking out the history books to share what contributions the Virgin Islands has made to the world. Here are seven from elected officials representing each island:

1. Sen. Frett-Gregory – Musa I of Mali (1280-1337)

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory recognized a prominent figure in African history. The senator’s official Facebook page posted a brief history of Musa I of Mali (1280-1337), also known as Mansa Musa. Mansa was the 10th Mansa, or “conqueror”/ ”emperor” of the wealthy West African Islamic Empire of Mali.

Source: Official Facebook page of Senator Donna Frett Gregory

Mansa Musa isn’t directly connected to Virgin Islands history, but the Caribbean’s connection to the African coast makes it worth a read. Here it is:

During his reign, Mansa Musa conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding villages and land that supported the expansion of his empire. Mali would become the largest producer of gold during the age and he would soon become known as “the richest man in the world.”

Statement from the Office of Donna Frett-Gregory

This week for Black History Month, we’re taking it back! Way back!Musa I of Mali (1280-1337), also known as Mansa…

Posted by Senator Donna Frett-Gregory on Monday, February 4, 2019


A devout Muslim, it is during Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca between 1325 and 1324 that his vast wealth was recorded and he became well known throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. This pilgrimage was reported to have a total of 60,000 men; many of whom were laden in “silks, and gold staffs” and was rumored to have so much wealth with the caravan, that the economies of entire cities such as Cairo and Medina were affected due to the influx of gold and wealth brought into their regions.

He is credited with a building expansion program throughout his kingdom, that would ultimately lead to the creation of the Sankoré Madrasah, now a part of the University of Timbuktu. Completed by the end of his reign, the Sankoré had been converted into a fully staffed University with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria.

It is important to remind ourselves that Black History does not begin with slavery. Our histories and stories are as old as time itself. It important to teach future generations that our possibilities as a people are endless!

Statement from the Office of Donna Frett-Gregory

2. Sen. Payne – Martin Luther King

Senator Payne posted a moving tribute to MLK and how utilizing the trait of determination in everyday life can lead to ultimate success. MLK’s impact extends beyond the Virgin Islands as the world observes his legacy unfold through his children.

The senator’s message of perseverance is in line with teachings from MLK before his assassination.

“A MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORY”It is an honor to be speaking to you today, on this Martin Luther King Jr Holiday. Let me…

Posted by Steven Payne on Friday, February 1, 2019

The King Center, located in Atlanta Georgia is the official living memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., and was founded by his wife Coretta Scott King to educate on nonviolence and the way forward for people of color seeking social justice.

3. Sen. Sarauw – Edith Bornn

Senator Janelle K. Sarauw recognized Edith Bornn — Bornn is known as the first woman to establish a law practice in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She was a notable environmentalist, children’s advocate and organizer of the island’s League of Women Voters.

A Celebration

For today's Black History Fact we recognize Edith Bornn who was the first woman with a private law practice in the Virgin Islands. #BlackHistory #OurHistory #BlackExcellence #ForwardMovement

Posted by Senator Janelle K. Sarauw on Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bornn was also very vocal about over-development in the territory, and regularly lead citizens’ protests and participated in hearings to limit the expansion of large resorts, which threatened beaches and wildlife refuges on each island.

4. Sen. Barnes – Janice Tutein

Senator Alicia V. Barnes recognized cultural icon and storyteller Janice Tutein in a social media post. Other elected officials, also paid tribute to Tutein online to honor her legacy after her passing.

Viya’s News2 also ran a cultural segment to honor the late storyteller.

Rest In Peace Janice Tutein. Your legacy lives on thru the people you have touched while you shared stories and education on culture throughout the Virgin Islands.

Posted by News2 on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

You can see the full statement released by Sen. Barnes’ office below:

5. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett –  Barbara T. Christian

U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress, Stacey Plaskett is celebrating Barbara T. Christian, an author and professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The Congresswoman is recognizing Christian as an influential Virgin Islander for authoring books like Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers and pieces like The Race for Theory, where Christian was published in the academic journal, Cultural Critique in 1987.

Christian’s essay was critical of curriculums where students are trained solely as academics, without any experience as creative writers. Barbara T. Christian has an entire Wikipedia page, check her out.

6. Sen. James – 1996 MLK Day march in St. Croix

Sen. James posted a photo from a Martin Luther King Day march in 1996 from Plaza Extra East to Island Center. His father, Jonathan E. James, Sr., and labor leader Ralph Mandrew, both deceased, are present in the flashback. Also in the photograph is former Senator Alicia ‘Chucky’ Hansen with a funky hairdo and an outfit to match.

January 1996: My father Jonathan E. James, Sr. (deceased), Labor Leader Ralph Mandrew (deceased), Senator Alicia "Chucky…

Posted by Javan James on Saturday, February 9, 2019

Can we get that hair again, Chucky? 👀

7. Sen. Myron Jackson – Carib people and Cannibalism

Senator Myron Jackson is also spewing out history lessons this month. Researchers in Antigua are hoping to correct colonial accounts that depicted Carib people in the region as cannibals.

Source: Florida Museum of Natural History

Colonial-era historians said that the Arawak people were exterminated in about 1300 AD by the Caribs but the accounts may have falsey demonized the native people as man-eaters – who were eventually displaced by the first European settlers.

It seems like we are also debunking long standing Caribbean myths in 2019, read the full story here. The senator has shared a number of interesting history lessons this week.

Featured image courtesy of the Office of Senator Javan James