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Monday, January 30, 2023



Nov. 19, 2001 – This is a week of celebrating the centenary of a young one destined to bring honor and esteem to himself and to the Virgin Islands where he was born: J. Antonio Jarvis.
The Virgin Islands — and most particularly J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School at the foot of Mafolie Hill on St. Thomas — is celebrating the milestone anniversary. A committee at the elementary school, which was known as the Abraham Lincoln School when Jarvis himself was principal there for 21 years, worked with Jarvis' son, Franklin D. Jarvis, planning the week's observances.
"I call this 'the rebirth of Jarvis,'" Franklin Jarvis said of his father. "He was born 100 years before his time."
A biography of Jarvis by educator Addelita Cancryn was titled "A Man of Vision."
Jarvis, a giant in Virgin Islands literature, was born Nov. 22, 1902, according to his son and some published sources, although other documentation, including the Library of Congress, has the year as 1901. He moved in many circles overlapping education and literature: journalism, poetry, drama, history, the visual arts, music, philosophy. And his thinking and writing were immersed in civic, political and social opinions.
His work in history, literature and social issues met in his most controversial work — which his son said was also the author's favorite among his published books: "The Virgin Islands and Their People." When this tome — his third — was published in 1944, the territory's leaders and the populace as a whole were incensed because of numerous statements in the book presented as fact.
The Legislative Assembly members — all except Valdemar Hill Sr. – actually voted to remove Jarvis from his position as principal at Lincoln School. Gov. Morris F. deCastro intervened, and Jarvis was exonerated within the year, receiving a Library of Congress award for excellence in a history book. A quarter century later, the school was renamed for him — by the Legislature.
Jarvis and Ariel Melchior Sr. founded The Daily News in 1930, a time of extreme economic despair. He later sold his share in the paper to Melchior, and it remained a family-owned newspaper until the Gannett chain bought it in 1978. Four years ago, Gannett sold it to Jeffrey Prosser.
His insistence on excellence — within his very personal point of view — in writing and in educational principles influenced many V.I. writers and activists, among them Adolph Sixto, Lionel Roberts Sr., Cyril Creque, Aubrey Anduze and J.P. Gimenez.
Among celebratory events taking place to mark the centennial:
– An art exhibit, "J. Antonio Jarvis Art in Retrospect — 100th Birthday," at Danica Art Gallery in Christiansted through Nov. 23. Gallery owner Danica David described Jarvis as "a pioneer and noted artist." He studied painting at Columbia University, and his work was exhibited at the New York World's Fair and the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. The Danica exhibit is of 12 original paintings. "Governor [Charles] Turnbull bought three of them for Government House," his son said Sunday evening in a telephone interview.
– Dedication of a Jarvis collection in the Jarvis School library on Monday. Starting with a nucleus of his works to be housed in a special cabinet, the school hopes to locate and obtain more of his writings. Among his works are: "A Brief History of the Virgin Islands," "Camille Pissarro: Painter from the Virgin Islands," "Fruits in Passing: Poems," "The King's Mandate" (a drama of the 1848 emancipation), "The Three Islands," "Virgin Islands Guide Book," "Bamboula Dance and Other Poems," "Virgin Islands Picture Book" and several educational texts.
"Plans are under way to do a new version of the 'Picture Book,'" Franklin Jarvis said. Originally published in 1948 by J. Antonio Jarvis and Rufus Martin, the book is filled with 73 photographs of recognizable landscapes and buildings, portraits of the famous and the unknown, and even some very early tourists. The new publication is to juxtapose the originals with new photographs of the same locales, to create a dramatic picture of "then and now."
In 1962, Franklin Jarvis said, his father received a grant from the Legislature to update a Virgin Islands history textbook for the schools. J. Antonio Jarvis was making plans for a research trip to Europe when he died without completing the work. His son is now discussing with Del Anduze and Edgar Lake the possibility of completing that work and publishing it.
– A reception at Government House Monday evening, by invitation. At the reception, Franklin Jarvis said, one or more of the newly purchased paintings by his father were to be displayed.
– An assembly in the Jarvis School courtyard Tuesday at 9 a.m. The program will feature recognition of Jarvis School alumni, who have been invited to gather. A reception for the students will follow.
– A candlelight walk from Roosevelt Park to Educators Park Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. A ceremony will follow at Educators Park, across from the Emancipation Garden post office. The park features bronze statues of three educators: J. Antonio Jarvis, Edith Williams and Rothschild Francis.
Franklin Jarvis said he is "pleased with the hard work of school and community people" who have put together plans for these events, "and pleased with the recognition" of his father.
Whatever is or was arguable in "The Virgin Islands and Their People," especially in the chapter "Superstition, Witchcraft, and Necromancy Undermine Health and Morals," it is difficult to argue with J. Antonio Jarvis's final sentence in the book: "To know the Virgin Islands is to love them." He himself was proof of that.

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