I grew up on the island of St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, and whenever we had gatherings the adults would sit around and tell jokes and stories. I’d pretend to be playing, while I listened, since it was considered rude to listen to adult conversations. I heard many stories while eavesdropping on adults, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I heard the story of how my ancestors were involved in the bloody labor revolt known as the Fireburn.
I sat and listened to my aunts tell the story of how my great-great grandmother Moriah was only 15 during the Fireburn. I could see Moriah grabbing her younger brother and sister and covering them with dirt, garbage and leaves, and hiding them in a ditch, so that they could be safe during the revolt. I could hear the shouts of the Laborers as they fought for basic human rights. I could feel the pain, as loved ones were killed and fell in battle; and I felt the desperation of human beings who could no longer submit to the unfair treatment and inhumane living conditions that they were subjected to. My perspective changed on that day and I knew that I had to share this story.
The story of the Fireburn is little known outside the Virgin Islands, yet it is a story that begs to be told. Although the Fireburn took place in the 1800s, and on an island in the Caribbean, it is globally relevant today. Fireburn the Documentary addresses the human rights violations that occurred on the island of St. Croix during the post-emancipation event known as the Fireburn.
The Fireburn addresses the heart of humanity and shows what happens when people are robbed of their inalienable rights. Having written fictional books on the Fireburn, I wanted to give audiences an opportunity to hear more about the Fireburn from a historical and oral tradition perspective. I also wanted to hear the narrative from Virgin Islanders.
Through telling the story of the Fireburn in books and now film, I’ve learned that storytelling is not dead. There is a wide audience of people that want to hear the stories of others, as well as a desire to preserve their own. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded my non-profit a grant so that Fireburn the Documentary will be placed in all of the Virgin Islands' public middle and high school libraries. The University of the Virgin Islands and WTJX Public Broadcast System in the Virgin Islands, have also partnered with us to ensure that the Fireburn story is heard and preserved.