Strand Street, Frederiksted, Ib Andersen 1946

“US Virgin Islands and Denmark – Our mutual heritage”
Symposium at The National Museum of Denmark May 26th – 27th 2011
Summary July 2011

Lunn & Co.
Ulla Lunn, arkitekt m.a.a. - Kagerupvej 42, 4420 Regstrup, Denmark - t: 59189098, m: 26157727, - CVR: 16771473


Introduction. The National Museum of Denmark hosted an international symposium May 26th – 27th 2011 in Copenhagen on the topic of the preservation of the heritage of the US Virgin Islands, the former Danish West Indies. The Symposium was sponsored by ICOMOS Denmark, the US Embassy in Copenhagen and the Danish West Indian Society. The symposium was arranged in connection to the exhibition ‘The Danish West Indies – building a colony’ which was open to the public at the National Museum from April 2nd until October 23rd 2011. The exhibition is based on a recent research project carried out by architect Ulla Lunn, historian George Tyson and historian Dr. Louise Sebro. The research documents the first 150 years of slavery and sugar production; it covers both the social and physical dimension. The research in extension is accessible at Out of ten speakers six guests from US Virgin Islands were invited to give a speech . 56 participants were signed in. The first day of the symposium was designated to the topic of preserving the tangible heritage comprising the landscapes, the plantation structure and plantation ruins, the towns and the monuments. The second day was designated to broaden the debate to US – Danish relations in general, the VI culture in general, future collaboration – possibilities and challenges.


Background. The Virgin Islands’ and Danish mutual history lasted for 250 years ending in 1917 by transfer of the three islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix to USA. The structure of the landscape and the built heritage still comprise a vast and unique resource of historic evidence and potential for development for the US Virgin Islands. The aim of the symposium was to present the recent research and to generate a debate on how we can contribute to the protection and perseveration of our mutual heritage. One question posed to the participants was; Can Denmark in collaboration with the US Virgins Islands contribute to a strategy? Should the heritage of the islands be appointed as a candidate to the UNESCO World Heritage List? Are there resources in the national and international community to carry out the enormous task of preserving the unique evidence of the early colonial history with the monuments of slavery, sugar production and all that went with it?

Thursday may 26th. Mr. Per Kristian Madsen, General Director of the National Museum of Denmark opened the symposium by a welcoming speech. He especially welcomed all to the premises of the National Museum of Denmark and expressed a special than to the guests from US Virgin Islands. Mr. Madsen also passed a thank to the sponsors of the event. Mr. Madsen expressed the hope that the participants would use the opportunity to visit the exhibition - The Danish West Indies - Building a Colony, curated and designed by architect Ulla Lunn. As a member of the board of ICOMOS Denmark he also found the opportunity to mention the widely spread interest in the Danish – VI mutual history and the large task of preservation of the heritage. Mr. Madsen also mentioned the National Museum of Denmark’s plans on celebrating the centennial for transfer of the Danish West Indies to USA coming up in 2017 by a larger exhibition on the topic and hoped for collaboration with key persons and institutions in the years to come. Dr. Louise Sebro, historian at the National Museum of Denmark chaired the symposium. With her research, experience and many years of collaboration with institutions and individuals on the Virgin Islands she guided the two days of presentations and debate.

Louise Sebro


First speaker was Ulla Lunn, Architect m.a.a. and curator of the exhibition, Copenhagen “The built heritage of the former Danish West Indies – building the colony”. Ms. Lunn presented some of the research that the exhibition is based on and discussed the uniqueness of the built heritage of the US Virgin Islands. The research documents the early period of the colony from the first building activities in 1670’ies to the decline of the sugar era around 1820’ies. In this period slavery was institutionalized and most building activities was based on enslaved artisans. Building technology was based on local material and imported brick. A northern European influenced building style emerged. The key question to the preservation of the heritage is how to give new understanding and new life to the built structures. Should the unique heritage of the US Virgin Islands be considered World Heritage?

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The landscapes of the Virgin Islands consist of hundreds of early industrial monuments and the parcel structure still in existence. Many authentic Afro-Caribbean houses from slave villages to vernacular urban structures still exist and some are still lived in. 3 towns are built in and preserved in a Creole European style ( Christiansted: 1730-40, Frederiksted: 1755-1878, Charlotte Amalie: 1832) Numerous historic monuments exists including forts and fortifications, government buildings, slave station, slave schools and churches Extensive archives exists and are partly being made accessible on the internet A strong oral narrative tradition exists to bear witness of the past times and the connection to Africa and Europe A large part of the inhabitants direct descendants of Afro-Caribbean and European decent.

Ms. Lunn concluded that the international community should contribute to the giant preservation task and that other sites on the World Heritage List can generate large funds for investment.

Larsen, Jackson & Christensen


Mr. Gerville Larsen, Architect, A.I.A., N.O.M.A., Principal - Taller Larjas, LLC. "The Other Side of the Story: Making Preservation Connect with Diverse Audiences in the U.S. Virgin Islands" Existing preservation and restoration programs that are being employed in our Territory include: 1. Government Incentives: Enterprise Zone, Revenue Enhancement Act, Christiansted & Frederiksted Rehabilitation Act, Federal Tax Credit Program, National Heritage Area Designation; 2. Non Profit Programs: Scrape & Paint Program, St. Croix Foundation; 3. Government & Non Profit Partnerships/Collaboration: Clean Up & Board Up Program – St. Croix Foundation with Law Enforcement Planning Commission; 4. Legislation & Advocacy: 29-0027 V.I. Historic Properties Preservation and Rehabilitation Act of 2011. Mr. Larsen’s conclusion was that the greatest challenge facing historic preservation in the U.S. Virgin Islands today is the task of linking preservation goals to those individuals who are not presently connected with the movement. The most direct route to achieving this result is to begin telling all sides of the story; to showcase the true identity of those individuals who built our historic towns, as promoted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s program “This Place Matters”. Other than that we have the traditional tools like Engagement, Partnerships/Collaboration, Advocacy, Education and Incentives, through which we can begin to shift local sentiment towards the importance of preserving our collective heritage. Also Mr. Larsen suggested that the most endangered “species” of structures in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the small wooden vernacular residences that make up a large portion of the historic towns. These quaint residences tell a rarely chronicled history of the African descendants that were freed and consequently built these distinct and exquisitely crafted structures. In essence, these buildings are representative of the transference of wealth from one generation of African descendants to another, many of which are still presently owned by local families. Apathy, time and the elements have taken a toll on some of these structures. However, with a small investment of typically $25,000 to $35,000 per structure, these distinctive “mortise and tenon”, hand-hewn residences could be restored and would have a great impact on the overall streetscapes of our historic towns.

Ms. Nadine Marchena- Kean, Director of The Enterprise Zone Commission: “Revitalizing distressed neighborhoods” Ms. Marchena could not attend the symposium but gave her presentation over SKYPE. Ms. Marchena concluded that in the face of challenges of preserving the built heritage, the Enterprise Zone Commission has found innovative ways of achieving our ultimate goals. The commission realized that the tax credits for rehabilitation on its own were not spurring rehabilitation, and so we created a strategic plan and implemented programs that has encouraged, persuaded and motivated property owners to revitalize their buildings. In order to deal with a lack of funding to implement these programs, we sought and received grants to supplement. We have had some small victories like for example 11 buildings being salvaged in Charlotte Amalie. The VI government has also taken other initiatives to other rehab efforts like local tax credits and new lucrative tax exemptions, our stop gap board ups, estate planning conferences, loan 5

program and the ‘scrape & paint’ efforts. We are right now seeking funds for ‘The Save A Building’ program and ‘The Streetscape’ Program. We need to do more to bring buildings back to life. The program to save the small vernacular buildings in the towns is more viable than the larger restoration projects and hopefully a basis for an architectural strategy.

Mr. George Tyson, Historian St. Croix. “Ruination and Revitalization: Reflections on the Past and Present Status of Denmark's Rural Architectural Heritage in the U. S. Virgin Islands". Mr. Tyson stated that Denmark's rural architectural heritage in the Virgin Islands consists largely of deteriorating ruins and a few standing buildings associated with some 700 plantations built by Danes, Britons, Irish, Dutchmen, Caribbean Creoles and enslaved African ancestors of today’s Virgin Islanders. Collectively, this diverse and exceptionally well documented rural heritage reflects not only Denmark’s involvement with the sugar, slavery and the world market system, but also its experience with administering a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-racial social order. While this heritage is distant from Denmark in time, space and memory; it remains something of high value shared with the people of the Virgin Islands, most of whom are the descendants of Danish citizens or subjects, and many of whom are genetically related to present-day Danish families. The approaching bicentennial of the 1917 Transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States presents a unique opportunity for the people of Denmark and the Virgin Islands to join hands in fashioning a variety of joint undertakings that will preserve and utilize the neglected ruins of their shared rural heritage in order to foster in both societies a deeper, more nuanced understanding of a common Past, promote educational, structural and economic revitalization in the Present and build a solid foundation for strengthening and sustaining ancestral, cultural and commercial ties in the Future.

George Tyson


Dr. Mikkel Venborg, The national Museum of Denmark. “’Colonial Connections – a National Museum program” Dr. Venborg stated that the National Museum during the last year they have coordinated existing initiatives of research and exhibitions dealing with the former Danish possessions in the Tropics and the influences these colonies had in the mother land. Also they compare the programs with the initiatives dealing with the Artic; in the National Museum research program ‘Northern Worlds’. The program is called Colonial Connections and in the presentation Dr. Venborg made a quick tour of the ended, ongoing and hopefully forthcoming initiatives in Ghana, Tranquebar, Serampore, the former Danish West Indies as well as a research centre dealing with the influences from the colonies in Denmark-Norway, not least in the realm of consumption. All projects lead up to a larger exhibition planned for 2017, dealing with Denmark-Norway as colonial power. However all projects has to be funded outside the general National Museum budget. Ms. Donna M. Christensen, Delegate to Congress: “Initiatives to secure historic preservation in the territory of US Virgin Islands” The Delegate concluded that The National Heritage Area Program, appointed by National Park Service would provide a great opportunity for St. Croix in many ways. First, it would provide support for the preservation and interpretation some of the rich history of the Island going back to the indigenous native peoples, through slavery, and the ties to the seven countries that have owned the island, with a special focus on Denmark and the United States. It will also tell the story of the people past and present who have made the island what it is. Beyond this though, it is an educational tool so that our children will know their history. Also importantly it is an economic development tool as well, because it would enhance and define our tourism product - one through which the native population can become more a part of the tourism economy. St. Croix has a wonderful story to tell and the National Heritage Area program will enable it to be told.

Donna M. Christensen


Friday May 27th Ms. Ulla Lunn, Architect ma.a, Copenhagen: “Will there be something to celebrate 2017? – A platform for collaboration” Ms. Lunn suggested that a platform for collaboration is needed to give all the obvious connections a forum for development. Collaboration has been suggested in many areas but dealing with the mutual heritage and especially the built heritage substantial funding is needed. Also political commitment on both sides is needed. To collaborate will also need involvement from USA Federal Government. The Danish politicians have so far been reluctant, but still we will have to show that this is the road to follow to hamper the denial of the colonial past and tell the truth. And how dangerous is the truth any way? Initiatives like research, education and tangible preservation and transformation projects need a long term engagement. We have a solid experience and tradition within the architectural field that could form the base for collaboration. To focus on 2017 should be supported by the idea of sharing knowledge, documents and other arte facts. Ms. Lunn stated that the Danish and VI new relations could form a role model in the international community by valid collaboration projects that will last.

Ulla Lunn

Mr. Wayne A. G. James, J.D., President of the Homeward Bound Foundation, St. Croix: “The Danish connection and the Danish obligation” Mr. James concluded that if the history of the Virgin Islands is not preserved, Virgin Islanders will become a twice-displaced people; Once displaced by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and again displaced when the history they reconstructed in the colonial context under Danish rule is lost to time. The obligation to preserve that history--its tangible and intangible components--rests not only with Denmark, but with the United States, the Nations of Central West Africa, and the Virgin Islands. The cost of preserving that history should be borne by all the parties involved, for in preserving that history, a major step will be taken 8

towards healing from past wrongs and building a bright future. 2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the islands from Denmark to the United States. It will also illustrate our true, collective sentiments for the preservation of our mutual heritage, for if we fail to bring the issue of preservation to the forefront in 2017, it is likely to be forgotten. Mr. James stated that he as a senator had a bill passed by the Legislature of the USVI in November 2010 that appointed basic funding for a centennial commission that will plan for the celebration of Transfer 2017. Denmark should do likewise as soon as possible if this is going to be something to celebrate. Mr. Asbjøn Hellum , GD at the Royal Archives, Copenhagen: On the archives. Mr. Hellum unfolded the situation the vast archives concerning the former Danish West Indies. In 2006 the archives were designated World Archival Heritage. Kilometers of primary sources of archival material is now systematically filed but the project on transcription and translation is enormous and never ending. The archival project has started with transcription and translation of the files belonging to West Indie Guinea Company

Mr. George Tyson, historian; St. Croix: On genealogy research Mr. Tyson unfolded the project concerning the St. Croix Population Database under the VISHA organization; Virgin Islands Slave History Archives, a private organization working on collection and research of archival material. The database consists of 1.8 million entries that allow descendants to search their family connections though out the archival files concerning St. Croix. After the lunch break the symposium opened to a broader audience on the theme ‘The future of our Mutual Heritage’. Members of The Danish West Indian Society were especially invited. Mr. Myron Jackson, Historian, Director of VI Cultural Institute, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, St. Thomas took the floor as the key note speaker. “Our Shared Heritage: Collective Memory and Identity” Mr. Jackson guided the audience through the various expressions and dimensions of Virgin Islands history and cultural heritage. His presentation used the power of images, as an educational tool, to best illustrate 500 hundred years of this shared heritage, collective memory and identity. He pointed out the various issues relating to the cultural heritage, and human resources, on both sides of the Atlantic, that are known and unknown to Danes and Virgin Islanders. To sustain a collective identity, you must preserve the collective memory of a people. For that reason, future programs and initiatives in collaboration between the Virgin Islands and Denmark should focus not only on the restoration and preservation of the built environment, but also, on the development of collective consciousness of Virgin islanders and Danes as well. This calls for tangible initiatives such as the establishment of Cultural Centers in the V.I. and educational programs of exchange. He called for the translations of the modern works of Danish and Virgin Islands historians, authors, scholars and others who have produced works relevant to the Virgin Islands and the former Danish West Indies. Mr. Jackson also emphasized the fundamental need for Virgin Islanders to have access to their artifacts, archives and patrimony in search of their identity.


Myron Jackson

Mr. Shelley Moorhead; representing the NGO’s , Carida/Copenhagen, ACRRA/USVI and the VI reparation Movement as well as President of Carribean Institute for a New Humanity, was asked to reflect on the question "How does the younger generation adapt to history?" Mr. Moorhead took the starting point in the graffiti shown in the exhibition, which derives from Ghana; ‘Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be the hero’. Concerning the history the relations are more important than buildings. To the minds of the younger generation of the USVI, the ruined buildings reflect the ruined relations, so rebuilding should reflect rebuilt relations. To preserve the built environment could be a burden and a restriction to a development desired by the younger generation. The experiences from St. John have clearly jeopardized the local identity and the ability for the inhabitants to live a sustainable life on their own land. To celebrate a New Humanity we should focus on celebrating 2017 with some collaboration projects that give a truly new approach. Mr. Moorhead played a tune on a CD created in collaboration between Virgin Island’s and Danish artists as an example on people to people relations that gives new identity to both parties.


Shelley Moorhead

Mr. Michael Metz Mørch; Ambassador and director general Bikuben Foundation, Denmark, was asked to reflect on “Formation of a National Committee for the celebration of 2017?” Mr. Mørch outlined his ideas on the process leading up to the celebration of 2017. He was determined to form a National Committee for this purpose and had taken the first steps in that direction. He invited every individual of the audience to send him an email to be enrolled in the task force. All viable ideas and programs should be embraced in this mutual collaboration effort. He was confident that American, Danish and VI sources could be channeled in to the initiative. ( )

Michael Metz Mørch


During the Q & A session mr. David Night from St. John’s historical society pointed out that the native population on St. John is ‘an endangered species’ due to the National Park Service management of the island and due to the development within American tourism. Ms. Lene Floris, Head of the Department for Research and Dissemination at The Naional Museum of Denmark said that the museum wants to reach out to those from the VI community who has ideas on how we can create the best form of dissemination of our mutual history. Ms. Anne Walbom shared a vision for 2017 with the audience on behalf of the Danish West Indian Society. Ms. Donna Christensen thanked on behalf of the Virgin Islanders for the symposium and the commitment from the Museum and from Ulla Lunn towards new relations. She expressed her sincere wish to forward the programs and ideas and join Mr. Mørch’s initiative. Dr. Sebro and Ms. Lunn wrapped up the symposium by encouraging Mr. Mørch to continue his embracing initiative and the audience to make themselves and their ideas known to Mr. Mørch.


Michael Metz Mørch hosted a dinner for the guests from the Virgin Islands on May 27th.



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