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Place, Time, and Memory in the Virgin Islands

October 11, 2012 | By Federal/State Partnership Staff

What are the stories that make and inform a community? How do the customs, traditions, and values of a specific community inform their collective memory? These are questions the Virgin Islands Humanities Council considered with “Place, Time, and Memory: Story Toh Tell!” This initiative, funded by a We the People grant, was launched to advance discussions on identity and collective memory by communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In fall 2011, a two-day, multiple-part conference, Place, Time, & Memory: “Story Toh Tell!,” An Exploration of Collective Memory and Identity, took place on the island of St. Croix. The conference was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the 1878 St. Croix Labor Revolt, which began on October 1, 1878. By employing the narrative in its various forms, the Virgin Islands Humanities Council sought to inspire a broader articulation of place, time, and memory through thought provoking dramatic readings, commentaries and panel discussions, and complementary presentations. Events were held at two historic buildings -- the Government House in Christiansted and at Fort Frederik in Frediksted, both on St. Croix.

The first day started off with the presentation of the Council’s Humanist Award. This year, the Humanist Award was given posthumously to Crucian writer and editor Marvin E. Williams for his contributions to the Virgin Islands community in the fields of education, sports, culture, and the arts. Williams was dedicated to exposing Virgin Islands and Caribbean literature in international circles and edited several books in this genre for free. Following the awards, a troupe of respected community actors brought Williams’ work to life, staging Songs for Das Camella, a poetic tribute to his wife. Other readings included works by Clement A. White, a rendition of Do Lord Remember Me by James de Jongh, and a dramatic excerpt of Kill the Rabbits, a short story from Tiphanie Yanique’s award-winning book How to Escape from a Leper Colony. An author panel discussion followed the performances.  

On the second day, the Council presented the Daniel L. Heftel Lecture series, featuring a panel of four authors, educators, historians, and activists whose works are distinctly tied to power of place. Moderated by Gloria I. Joseph, professor emeritus of Hampshire College, the panelists consisted of William W. Boyer, H. Akia Gore, Elizabeth Rezende, and Shelley Moorhead. The lively discussions that followed included examinations of topics such as the American response to labor leader David Hamilton Jackson, the differential treatment immigrants experienced in the Virgin Islands, the historically free black community of Christiansted, and the Virgin Islands reparations movement. Three Council-funded documentaries exploring different sites, times, and historical structures were shown and discussions were held with representatives of each film. The conversations and films were complemented by demonstrations of the official music and dance of the Virgin Islands – quelbe, a form of topical folk song frequently performed by scratch bands, and quadrille, a traditional folk dance, and tastings of Virgin Islands culinary delights.

The Virgin Islands Humanities Council received a We the People grant (BC 50565-10) to fund Place, Time, and Memory.