The second you get off the plane, you know you are no longer in the states any more. For one you walk straight off the plane and are immediately outside to get your baggage in the open, yet humid, air. Many of the people that would stop us and ask us what we are doing on the island would say “what could you possibly study here?” but with an island rich of history and culture, I do not know how you could go there and not learn something new.
We got a historical tour of Christiansted from a native named Miss V. She walked us through the area called Free Gut, which was the only area the “freed colors” were able to live. She also talked about how many of the people enslaved were not sold into slavery by their own kind but trusted the wrong people and tricked into thinking they would just be providing a service.
Law enforcement on the island is different than in the states. We were going down the road nearly 30 miles over the “speed limit” without having to worry about being pulled over. While talking with some locals who were fishing on the end of the pier in the restricted area and were asked if we wanted to go with to see, they had said law officials would not do anything about them being there, and they were right, but it was not an idea we were used to. With us having white privilege and a lack of law enforcement, white islanders, and tourists in particular, could get away with a lot without getting in any kind of trouble, slightly different than that of the states.
While on the island we were all assigned work sites. I was assigned to work with the Women’s Coalition, which works with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. The Women’s Coalition works hard to provide as much support to survivors as they can. One way they do this is with their shelter to allow protection for victims on the island. A unique thing about the shelter is that it is located in the center of town, instead of the middle of nowhere, like shelters in the states, because the community is so tight nit, by having neighbors so close they can keep an eye out for the shelter and the survivors staying there. With St. Croix being a territory and not a state they do not get as much money from the government so they have to fundraise to produce enough money to support all their services. One of their main incomes comes from their thrift store, Closet to Closet. It is similar to a second hand store but is slowly working its way up to feeling more like a typical retail store. The Women’s Coalition offer other services including advocacy, educational programs, and support groups for survivors and their families.
We were able to meet with so many intelligent people on the island all able to bring input and get us to understand our shared history with the enslaved Africans and the long history the island has with it. The extremely knowledgeable Olasee Davis shared multiple articles including one to show how Enslaved Africans freed themselves of slavery by multiple revolts and their final revolt by threatening to burn the entire island.
(The view from Maroon Ridge. Breathtaking!)
Professor Davis had also taken us on hike to Maroon Ridge, which is beautiful and rich in its history. Maroon Ridge was an area where slaves who had escaped would hide in the cliffs and on the hills, as they had nowhere to run. Many were left with the option of being caught and brutally tortured or jumping from the ridge in the belief that their soul would return to Africa. It was extremely chilling standing at a spot many had once jumped from.
(Professor Olasee agreed to take a photo with us in front of this old light house.)
Before going to the island we were required to read Voyage of the Sea Turtles by Carl Safina and learned about sea turtles and their interaction with the island. We were fortunate enough to watch a leatherback sea turtle lay her eggs on Sandy Point Beach. The process for the leatherback to lay her eggs is quite lengthy but extremely fascinating to watch. Our guide was able to answer most of our questions about leatherbacks but there is still so much we do not know about their life in the sea. However, we do know their laying process in that they will go into a state of trans as she digs a hole and begins to lay her eggs. When she finishes laying her eggs she carefully covers them up and begins to mix the sand around it to disguise where she laid them and make her way back to the sea and never get to see her babies.
The island is rich with history and I was so grateful to learn it all and experience it first hand.