“Our New West Indian Fellow Citizens”

After the sale of the West Indian islands to the USA, the largely black population hoped for better times. However, the new administration on the islands was markedly racist and many years were to pass before the population were permitted to select their own governor.
Picture of the article in The World Magazine,
The article in The World Magazine, 22 July 1916. (Danish National Archives).

At the beginning, the three former Danish colonies were administered by the American navy. At that time racism was widespread in the armed forces, so conditions did not improve.

Report from the islands

In July 1917 The World Magazine printed a lavishly illustrated report from the former Danish colony, now the American Virgin Islands or the United States Virgin Islands. The young journalist Maurice Becker had written the text and drawn the colored sketches of exotic native life.

In his opinion, there was a future for the tourist industry in particular on St. Thomas, while St. Croix and St. Jan should continue to produce sugar. He also reported that the population of the islands was 33,000 (the true figure in 1917 was 26,051), and that people spoke English and welcomed the Americans.

Condescending attitude

Maurice Becker’s presentation of the population of the islands, “Our New West Indian Fellow Citizens”, is a good illustration of the rather condescending perception of the local population on the islands that was dominant in Europe and the USA. In his report, the journalist is seen on horseback in the top left photograph. A Danish police officer can be seen in the middle in white tropical uniform together with his American successor, who was dressed in khaki. According to Becker’s article, the Dane informed him that one did not have to arm oneself with a baton or a pistol among this friendly and well-behaved black population – although the Dane himself is equipped with a sable.

The population could only select their own governor from 1970

The US Virgin Islands were under the administration of the American navy for many years before they finally got a civilian administration in 1931. However, this was appointed by the Department of the Interior in Washington. Moreover, it is only since 1970 that the population of the islands have been able to select their governor.

Drawing by Alfred Schmidt in Klods-Hans 1917.
In this caricature from the magazine Klods-Hans, President Wilson leaves with the three small islands in the form of three black boys, while the sack of money is carried into the Denmark House and Mother Denmark weeps bitter tears over the loss. (Alfred Schmidt in Klods-Hans 1917).