We applaud the House of Assembly and others responsible for recognising ten national heroes whose stories are an inspiration to current and future generations.
The move was a welcome addition to the 2021 launch of Heroes and Foreparents Day, which itself was a well-conceived replacement to St. Ursula’s Day that better celebrates Virgin Islands history, culture and identity.
The HOA’s decision last month to precede this year’s holiday with a ceremony naming the first class of VI national heroes further enhances the meaning of the observance.
The chosen heroes reflect a who’s who of VI history dating back before emancipation in 1834. For instance, Perreen Georges, a free black woman, bravely testified in 1811 during the seminal murder trial of Arthur Hodge, a white plantation owner who was eventually put to death for the murder of an enslaved man named Prosper.
Another VI hero, Shelly Martin, led an attempted rebellion in 1831. Three others — Augustus McCleverty, Obadiah Dawson and Henry Garnett — fought against oppressive taxes in the 1800s and championed the working classes.
The five others named — Carlton de Castro, Theodolph Faulkner, Isaac Glanville Fonseca, Noel Lloyd and H. Lavity Stoutt — made indelible contributions to the advancement of the territory’s political autonomy over the last 100 years by championing Virgin Islanders’ rights loudly and publicly, often at great personal risk to themselves.
We are heartened by the systematic and contemplative approach the Public Holidays Oversight Committee took in selecting these heroes. The committee struck a sound balance in choosing well-known ancestors alongside others whose stories had largely — and lamentably — fallen victim to obscurity.
Selecting heroes using a historical and well-researched approach is a great way to keep the process apolitical and therefore preserve the integrity and significance of the list.
Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley’s suggestion that government consider nominations for new heroes every five years is also welcome.
However, there was one disappointment with this year’s list: Only one of the 10 honourees was a woman. Moving forward, future lists must better reflect the contributions of female heroes to the VI’s development.
We would also counsel that national heroes come in all forms. They are not necessarily elected leaders or other newsmakers. Sometimes, they are unsung people like teachers, church leaders, social commentators, journalists, entrepreneurs, devoted civil servants, nurses, volunteers, firefighters, and so many others.
It is also important to remember that national heroes shouldn’t be remembered just one day a year. For this reason, we are pleased that this Culture and Tourism Month will feature a performance further honouring them and telling their stories.
Moving forward, new research and education campaigns should also be launched to help ensure that the public never forgets that all of us stand on the shoulders of giants.