ST THOMAS, USVI -- Wayne James, fashion designer, lawyer, former US Virgin Islands senator, historian, and author of the soon-to-be released book on men's manners, Manly Manners: Lifestyle and Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century, has been invited to deliver the keynote address at the October 11-12, 2014, conference in Oslo, Norway.
Titled, “An Uncomfortable Conversation: The Scandinavian Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” the two-day scholarly gathering, sponsored by Norway's Interkulturet Museum and the Afrin Foundation, will feature some of the world's foremost scholars on the trans-Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans.
“I have been asked to deliver a paper on 'The Danish Presence in the Virgin Islands: History, Conquest, and the Making of the Wealth of the Danish-Norwegian Colonial Empire,'” James said.
“But unlike many scholarly papers on such subjects, which tend to begin in medias res -- in the middle of things -- I intend to begin with the botanical origins of the sugar cane plant, transition into Alexander the Great's introduction to sugar during his military campaign in India in the 4th century BCE, delve into the Crusades, then, after discussing the European production, with African slave labor, of sugar in the islands off the west coast of Africa, arrive at how the Scandinavians, from the northernmost reaches of Europe, ended up as slavers in the Caribbean. It will be a journey around the world and through time in 40 minutes,” he continued.
The former USVI senator has also been invited to participate in a discussion titled “Rebellion, Resistance, and Emancipation,” which will focus on the slave insurrections on St John and St Croix, as well as to serve as chair for a panel discussion on reparations.
“I have been engaging the Danes on the subject of reparations for twenty years,” James said.
“Reparations is a subject near and dear to many people of African descent throughout the African Diaspora. And, interestingly, because of the meticulous records kept by the Danes, which allow many present-day US Virgin Islanders to trace -- with supporting documents -- their ancestry to particular slaving vessels and, in some cases, to specific regions of Africa whence their forefathers came, many of the traditional defenses to the awarding of reparations are less valid vis a vis Virgin Islanders. It is going to be interesting to see if the Danes, in light of the upcoming 2017 Centennial Celebrations of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish rule to American rule, are going to be amenable to the idea of reparations -- as suggested by those deserving of repair. After all, once the islands were sold to the United States, we Virgin Islanders never looked back to Denmark -- not for education, not for employment, not as post-colonial immigrants, not for humanitarian aid, not for disaster relief, not for anything. In the case of Danish slavery and colonial history, it was a case of exploitation without any of the 20th-century repercussions with which other colonial powers have had to deal. So if there is ever a case for reparations, it is the case of People of the US Virgin Islands vs. The Kingdom of Denmark,” James said.
James has long been a force in matters pertaining to the African Diaspora. In July 1999, at age 37, he captained the Homeward Bound Foundation to international acclaim with the Middle Passage Monument Project, the event which placed a 12-foot-tall, 17-foot-wide monument onto the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to serve as a gravestone for the estimated millions of African people who died en route to enslavement on board European slaving vessels between the 15th and 19th centuries. And in July 2006, James revealed his research on Azunta, his African-born great-great-great-great-grandmother who, at age 13, crossed the infamous Middle Passage on board a slaving vessel, arriving on St Croix on October 1, 1798.
“Reconstructing, celebrating, and sharing the history of our ancestors is a time-consuming process,” James said.
“But the rewards are invaluable. The more we understand our ancestors, the more we are able to reach for the stars,” he concluded.