Usvi History Month: Theme of Firsts

Floor Speech

Date: March 2, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PLASKETT. Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying that I am a proud Virgin Islander. I stand on the shoulders of strong Virgin Islanders who came before me and who are known for their courage, leadership, sacrifice, and, most importantly, their resilience. We are known for so much more than just white sandy beaches and as a popular vacation destination. We are made of culture-rich lands and a diverse history.

March is Virgin Islands History Month. Though not always pretty, there is great beauty in our past that has shaped the Virgin Islands of our present. Like most Caribbean countries, the Virgin Islands' history, too, begins with the story of pre-Columbian inhabitants of the islands and of slavery.

Almost 3,000 years prior to Christopher Columbus landing in 1493, Native American tribes, such as the Ciboney, the Caribs, and the Arawak Indians, have long inhabited the islands.

In 1493, when Columbus attempted to land on the island that I live on, St. Croix, he was repelled at Salt River, where he met the Carib Indians who kept him and his troops from landing and making landfall there.

The period of Columbus' visit ultimately set the course for seven other European flags to claim the Virgin Islands and, unfortunately, brought demise to the indigenous people.

Today, they are found on reserved lands, and only for a few islands, and no longer exist in the Virgin Islands.

Much of our global history was built upon slavery and colonization, especially in the Caribbean islands. By the early 1700s, the Virgin Islands was no stranger to enslavement and European colonization.

On the island of St. John, a Ghanaian by the name of Breffu is credited with leading the first and one of the longest-lasting rebellions in the Americas on the island of St. John. She empowered more than 150 enslaved Africans to fight for their freedom and held that island for over 6 months, where the Danes had to bring in the Spanish Armada and the French fleet to get the slaves back in line.

Several years, almost a century, later, in 1848 on the island of St. Croix, slaves led a rebellion, an armed insurrection, which led to the emancipation--15 years before the United States emancipation. The Virgin Islands and Haiti are the only two places to gain freedom through violent overthrow.

The celebration of V.I. Emancipation Day on July 3 marks this day. Virgin Islands' history does not end with just the bleak stories of European colonialism and forced slavery. We have so many celebrated heroes, from individuals who were the founders of San Francisco; Denmark Vesey, who led the rebellion in South Carolina; Hubert Harrison, the great socialist mind who was the thought leader for Marcus Garvey; Edward Wilmoth Blyden, who was the founder of Pan- Africanism; Nella Larsen, one of the Harlem Renaissance writers; Ruby Rouss, who was an aide-de-camp to Eisenhower; Sam Ebbesen, a general and friend of Colin Powell.

Without that history and those individuals, we would not be the Virgin Islands we are today, which I am proud to represent and call my home and my heritage.

Throughout the month of March, let us celebrate our heritage and our history and look to our future.

Happy Virgin Islands History Month.