Democratic Revolution in the Virgin Islands: Rothschild Francis

Rothschild Francis was a civil rights leader vehemently fighting for the rights of Virgin Islanders, under the social, economic, and political imbalance worsened by the 1917 switch from Danish to United States sovereignty. Finding inspiration in the ideals of everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, to Karl Marx, Francis promoted true democracy and a civilian run government as an answer to issues of oppression within the colonial structure. In his attempts to supersede the U.S. Navy’s control of the islands, as established when the island was acquired, Francis organized unions, wrote about his views in local papers, and made speeches around the island, including most famously in Market Square.

Rothschild Francis and the Quest for Freedom

Though slavery emancipation occurred in the Virgin Islands in 1848, freedom was limited to only that, the freedom from being enslaved. No statutes regarding political representation or legal justice were established, and planters still controlled and exploited the people. Little changed in 1917 when the United States took control of the island, in fact, no efforts were taken to revitalize the economy or bring political empowerment to the people. Francis observed that the naval officers had political amnesty while natives were treated as peons.

When Roger Baldwin, director and founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, took notice of an article Francis had wrote regarding the navy’s attitudes toward governing of the islands, the two met, resulting in Francis publishing his own paper, The Emancipator. The paper aided Francis in successfully passing a resolution in favor of free press and speech. Holding an immense gathering in Market Square, Francis openly criticized the naval government, as well as native leaders. Rothschild would be the first to devise legislation to provide U.S. Virgin Islanders with the rights and representation of American citizens.

The Legacy of Rothschild Francis in Market Square

Today, the enduring legacy of Rothschild Francis can still be seen in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Market Square, where some of Francis’ most spirited speeches were delivered, now bears the civil rights leaders name and can still be visited to witness the historic community venue for yourself. In addition, the statue of Rothschild Francis stands in Old Charlotte Amalie in Saint Thomas, welcoming visitors with one of Francis’ most poignant statements: “How Long, Oh Justice! How Long?” The legacy of Rothschild Francis, like his statue itself, still stands tall to inspire the people and visitors of the Virgin Islands today.

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