Premier of the Virgin Islands
Honourable Dr. Natalio D. Wheatley
Anniversary of the Great March of 1949
27 November, 2023
A pleasant good day to all the beautiful people of the Virgin Islands.
The fruits of the 1949 Great March were monumental achievements by our fore parents. They have indelibly changed the political, social and economic landscape of our country, and the prospects of all the generations of Virgin Islanders since. Many of the rights, privileges and comforts that we enjoy and take for granted today, would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of the brave men and women who stood up to mighty powers and demanded what are now more widely recognised in modern terms as fundamental human rights.
Most of us are very familiar with the concerns and outrage expressed in the 1930’s and 40’s by notable persons such as Hope Stevens, David G. Fonseca, Charles W. Georges, Howard R. Penn Joseph R. O’Neal, and the BVI Civic League, over the deplorable standard of living on the islands, the poor governance by the administrators, and the social injustice of the day. They championed the cause that Virgin Islanders deserve to have a greater and more meaningful participation in their own governance; a situation that had been deteriorating to abysmal lows since the Legislative Council in the Virgin Islands was shut down in 1901. Of course, it took the frustrations and persistence of a humble fisherman from Anegada, Theodolph H. Faulkner – angry with the poor treatment of his pregnant wife, to inspire and stimulate action among the population. United by their common belief of what was right and just, and what was wrong, the masses came out in their number, marched through the Capital and aired their grievances, and demanded the return of their rights and human dignity in the return of their legislature so that they would not be governed by persons hundreds of miles away who had no clue as to the realities on these islands.
The return of the legislature to these shores in 1950 paved the way for incremental political development and advancement of our nation and our people. The ability to govern certain aspects of our affairs cleared the way for the development of our tourism and financial services industries, which have aided the economic advancement of our country and our people. Our economic successes have enabled us to develop our infrastructure such as our ports, airports and schools. All of this and more have come from the courage of those brave souls who reminded us of the long-held desire of our fore parents to have self-determination, and that if it does not happen in their lifetime then in the lifetime of their generation.
My dear Virgin Islands people, as we celebrate the return of the legislature, as we remember the 1949 Great March and as we hold up the memory of those great leaders, we must also remember that we hold that vision on trust for the future generations – and we must not falter.
People of the Virgin Islands, we must be the guardians of the democracy that our ancestors fought for. We must not allow it to slip away from us. Let us not forget what Faulkner, Fonseca, De Castro, and the 1500 marched for when our democracy is threatened, and even in the midst of our negotiations for a new constitution, let us not drop the baton that was handed to us in an advanced position. At the end of the day, whatever happens, our unique identity, culture and heritage, must be protected and our people must truly be rendered better off – and that means progressing to a full measure of self-government, and, ultimately, the ability to decide our own destiny.
These are the things that Hope Stevens, David Fonseca, Charles Georges, Howard Penn, Joseph O’Neal, Theodolph Faulkner, the Members of the BVI Civic League and all those who marched through Road Town, were lobbying for. This is why the restoration of the legislature is so significant that we are celebrating it almost three-quarters of a century later.
So, as we celebrate, my dear Virgin Islands people, let us celebrate the fact that we are descended from great heroes; people who were gifted with strength, courage and perseverance. Let us recognize and celebrate all the great things we have achieved as a nation because they chose to stand up. And, let us celebrate the confidence that they inspire in us to continue aspiring towards great things.
I thank you.