Virgin Islands History

Floor Speech

Date: April 6, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PLASKETT. Mr. Speaker, the Virgin Islands and its people speak of great resilience. We are a people rich in history and agriculture, struggles and triumphs in the face of disenfranchisement.

March 31, 2022, marked 104 years that the Virgin Islands of the United States have been part of the United States. Our islands were acquired by the United States in the costliest per-acre sale in U.S. land purchase. We became the most easterly point of the United States, and served to protect the Caribbean Basin and the Panama Canal, particularly during World War I.

The sale of the Danish West Indies pulled Denmark out of depression and gave them the capital resources, gold bullion, necessary for them to become the happiest country that we know today. The brutal slavery and serf system that they inflicted on my ancestors, however, was not a happy time.

During the transfer of ceremonies on March 31, 1917, the people of the Virgin Islands, my people, were citizens of no country. All four of my grandparents were alive and living on the island of St. Croix at the time of the transfer.

Only qualified Danish citizens living in Denmark were able to vote in the plebiscite.

Of my eight great-grandparents, I believe one may have met the land and income requirement mandatory to be able to vote. Only one would have been able to vote for his destiny.

And after the purchase, those living in the territory, my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, my family, were citizens of no country, nowhere, for 10 years.

Yet, after becoming citizens, Virgin Islanders came immediately to Washington and petitioned, pleaded to be part of the draft. You see, Virgin Islanders, like the other territories, serve and give the ultimate sacrifice in far greater number per capita than those Americans on the mainland. We wanted and still are willing to take on the responsibility, not just the privilege.

Until the United States began ownership of territories, largely comprised of minority, Black and Brown people, disenfranchisement of territories was a temporary condition. From the 1787 Northwest Ordinance until the acquisition of Puerto Rico, lands were deemed territories with the expectation that they would become States.

The disenfranchisement and unequal treatment of people in the Virgin Islands are de jure law. The Insular Cases decided at the turn of the century in the Plessy v. Ferguson-era by the Supreme Court, established a doctrine of separate and unequal status for overseas territories.

However, the disenfranchisement and unequal treatment continues today through court cases in the Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden administration, through their oral and written arguments to the Supreme Court, as well as my own colleagues, Congress' unwillingness to grant equal treatment requests made by representatives from the territories.

My fight in Washington has been to level and create equity, to counter the many ways that such disenfranchisement affects our lives, Federal funding, healthcare access, veterans' benefits, structural damage after natural disasters due to longstanding unequitable funding.

It is my deepest honor to be grounded by my history, my parents, and my ancestors from the Virgin Islands, many of whom have played an integral role in the history of this Nation, long even before we were a part of this country; from Denmark Vesey, leader of the Charleston, South Carolina, slave revolt; David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish Senator in the United States; William Leidesdorff, the founder of San Francisco; Edward Wilmot Blyden, one of the founders of Liberia; even today, my predecessor, the first female physician of this body as a Member of Congress, Donna Christensen; and even this weekend, NCAA Women's Basketball Champion, Aliyah Boston.

Our contributions to this Nation are undisputed, and 104 years after our transfer from Denmark to the U.S. possession, our claim to full and inviolable rights as citizens of this country are long overdue.