This grant cycle the US Caribbean & Florida Digital Newspaper Project has digitized new content from five US Virgin Islands newspapers: The St. Croix Tribune, The St. Croix Avis, The West End News, The Daily News of the Virgin Islands, and The Home Journal. These papers follow in the tradition of earlier papers from the Islands, including The Herald, the first free press newspaper in the Danish West Indies, and The Emancipator, a staunch advocate for civil rights and transparency in government.
These papers and their publishers illustrate the power of the press to effect political change in the Virgin Islands. The editors’ personal commitments to social justice, education, and the public good are visible throughout and the efficacy of the presses is apparent in the numerous political and legal actions brought against them by local and territorial governments.
Founded by David Hamilton Jackson in 1915, the Herald was the first privately owned newspaper in the Danish West Indies. Earlier that year, Jackson traveled to Denmark for an audience with the king and other political leaders concerning workers’ treatment and conditions in the Danish West Indies. While the Danish crown made only vague promises concerning workers’ rights and suffrage, it did grant Jackson the right to publish the Herald, the first free press paper in the Islands.
Rothschild Francis founded The Emancipator in 1921 with the help of Elizabeth Anna Hendrickson, who secured funding for the paper from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Emancipator advocated for working people and social justice. Francis himself was a labor union organizer and later was elected to the Colonial Council. His scathing editorials and militant approach to civil rights made him a target for legal and political attacks, including several lawsuits concerning libel in The Emancipator. In 2022 the Virgin Islands Senate approved a bill asking US President Joe Biden to posthumously pardon Francis.
Joseph Francis, managing editor of The Emancipator in the 1930s, continued fighting for transparency, accountability, and social justice and was also targeted with lawsuits.
From 1922-1937 Ralph de Chabert published the Saint Croix Tribune, “A journal for the Progress of the People”. Like the other publishers on this list, de Chabert wrote frequent editorials on a variety of topics, including road safety, land use, government programs, political campaigns, racial injustice, and the fairness of other papers, including the Daily News.
The St. Croix Avis
The Brodhurst family owned, published, and wrote for the St. Croix Avis in the 1940s and 1950s. Canute A. Brodhurst, Sr. was the editor and manager, his wife, Anna C. Brodhurst associate editor, and his teenage son, Canute A. Brodhurst Jr. assistant business manager. Under the Brodhursts, the Avis published important local news and regulations as well as editorials critiquing racial inequality and governmental corruption on the island. One of these editorials landed Brodhurst on trial for contempt of court.
In 1944 the Beatty trial rocked the Virgin Islands. Harry Beatty, a white game warden was charged with murder for the shooting of Andrew Thompson, a black man. Beatty claimed self-defense, saying that he attempted to take Thompson’s unlicensed gun in his capacity as game warden, though his own gun, used to kill Thompson, was also unlicensed.
The trial was considered by the public and the papers to be a sham. Beatty waived his right to a jury trial due to overwhelming negative public opinion on the island, whose population was 95% black. Instead of holding another jury trial on another island, Judge Herman Moore elected to try the case himself. The prosecution called two witnesses, friends of Beatty, who testified to the self-defense. Beatty testified on his own behalf. Judge Moore acquitted Beatty to extreme public outcry.
On June 12 Brodhurst published an unsigned editorial in the Avis which took aim at the injustice and hypocrisy of the white minority government. The same editorial was also published by Emanuel Joseph, editor of the West End News. Both editors were cited for contempt of court and sentenced to 10 days in jail. Joseph served his ten days, but Brodhurst successfully appealed the decision. He also continued publishing his own editorials calling for the recall of Judge Moore.
Issues of the Avis from 1865 to 1947 are now available on Chronicling America.
The West End News
In 1924 Paul Joseph took over the West End News, a local paper published in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Like Brodhurst, Joseph used his paper to fight injustice, advance civil rights, and lobby for the best interests of native Virgin Islanders.
In 1933 he was appointed to the Colonial Council and elected to the Municipal Council of St. Croix. During this time, he used his political position and his press to support legislation to help the local population and economy recover for the Great Depression.
In 1944 Joseph published the same editorial as Brodhurst did in the Avis and both editors were found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 10 days in jail. After sentencing, Governor Morris Fidanque de Castro held a public meeting to calm the citizens and deescalate the situation. Joseph served his time and was seen as a hero by his peers.
Issues of the West End News from 1953-1957 and 1960-1963 are in processing and will be live in Chronicling America later in 2023.
The Daily News (later: Daily News of the Virgin Islands)
The Daily News was first published in 1930 and is still one of the most widely distributed papers in the US Virgin Islands today. Its founders, José Antonio Jarvis and Ariel Melchior Sr. were staunch free press advocates and use the Daily News to hold public officials accountable to the public.
Frequent editorials by Jarvis, condemned corruption in local and territorial government while championing public education and racial equality. Like the Avis, the editors of the Daily News were also held in contempt of court for editorials concerning the Beatty Trial.
In 1944 the governor attempted to ban Jarvis’ history book The Virgin Islands and Their People. In 1966 Melchior sued the St. Thomas Park Authority to protect public beach access and won. The Daily News’ commitment to transparency and government accountability won the paper a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1955.
Issues of the Daily News from 1962-1963 are in processing and will be available in Chronicling America later in 2023.
The Home Journal
Like many papers from the Virgin Islands, the Home Journal is closely tied to labor movements. Its publisher, Earle B. Ottley, was a union leader, legislator, and founder of the Unity Party.
Prior to starting the Home Journal in 1951, Ottley worked on his high school newspaper, The Reflector, and other territorial papers The Saint Thomas Mail Notes and Jarvis and Melchior’s Daily News.
The Home Journal also published articles by Jarvis, co-founder of the Daily News
, and the Virgin Islands Unity Party, one of the earliest political parties in the Virgin Islands.
Issues of the Home Journal from 1952-1958 are in processing and will be available in Chronicling America later in 2023.
“David Hamilton Jackson Day.” VI Now. https://www.vinow.com/blog/history/david-hamilton-jackson-day/
Joseph, Michael. “Birth of the Free Press in the Virgin Islands.” The Virgin Islands Daily News. 30 March 2017. http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/news/birth-of-the-free-press-in-the-virgin-islands/article_a18430b3-f772-537b-a6e7-564dc9347367.html
Moolenaar, Ruth. Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders. Department of Education, Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, 1992. https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00088995/
Probasco, Matt. “Senate: Right Historical Wrong with Rothschild Francis Pardon.” The St. Thomas Source. https://stthomassource.com/content/2022/10/13/senate-right-historical-wrong-with-rothschild-francis-pardon/
US Virgin Islands, Circuit Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. Francis v. People of the Virgin Islands. Nos. 3412 & 3413, 26 February 1926. https://casetext.com/case/francis-v-people-of-virgin-islands
US Virgin Islands, Circuit Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. People of Virgin Islands v. Brodhurst. No. 8721, 21 March 1945. https://www.leagle.com/decision/1945784148f2d6361572
How to cite this blog:
“Progress for the People: Newspaper History in the Virgin Islands.” The US Caribbean & Florida Digital Newspaper Project. 17 February 2023.