Anyone who tuned into Mario Moorhead’s radio show or heard him speak in public will recognize his iconic greeting to his fellow Virgin Islanders.
For years and years, from 1 to 5 p.m. six days a week, Moorhead manned the microphone at Reef Broadcasting. Taking calls from listeners, lecturing on V.I. history, letting people know about upcoming events, breaking news, rumors of scandals or what have you, Moorhead was a familiar voice and a fixture of people’s lives.
Although he retired from radio in 2018 he is still an active figure in the community and a fierce advocate of the native-born Virgin Islanders who are his “beloved.”
He has been deeply entrenched in V.I. politics and society forever, playing a major role in Emancipation and Fireburn celebrations; bringing controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak on more than one occasion, and speaking his mind on issues large and small, from the state of the territory’s hospitals to the risks of changing policies on marijuana. The rights and best interests of native-born islanders has long been top among his concerns.
Born Nov. 30, 1939, in Frederiksted to Alexander Moorhead and Esther Virginia Brow Moorhead, he had an old-fashioned upbringing during the height of the career of St. Croix’s labor leader David Hamilton Jackson.
Moorhead’s education began at St. Patrick’s school in Frederiksted and continued through fifth grade. He and his older brother, Raymond, were later educated on Puerto Rico at the Matienzo Cintron public school and were taught using a Spanish curriculum. Neither of the boys spoke Spanish, yet it was necessary for them to learn a new language if they were going to be successful at school.
“I immersed myself in Spanish comic books to learn the language. In two to three months, I had an uncanny ability to speak and comprehend this new language,” he said. “Not only was the command of the language necessary for the school curriculum, but it also managed to give me the clout I needed to escape the bullying from my classmates.”
Starting out with a language different from theirs brought out their childish meanness and led them to inflict abuse, Moorhead said.
Moorhead attended the Episcopal Boarding School for seventh though 12th grades and graduated with an aptitude for a successful start at a post-secondary learning environment. He was also talented at acting out Greek tragedies – thanks to his mother’s insistence on reading.
According to Moorhead, his mother required reading as mandatory for him to excel in any capacity of learning. He was smart. He knew he was smart, but he didn’t think reading was as necessary as his mother put it out to be.
“If I would have paid attention to my mother earlier, I would have gotten into studying what I wanted to long before I was in my 20’s,” he said.
Moorhead’s father wanted his son to excel in business and finance. Those areas of learning held no interest for the young man, but he enrolled at Inter American University in Puerto Rico and majored in business and economics with a minor in math. He was now following his father’s direction.
Graduate school beckoned to Moorhead at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania – whose alumnae includes President Donald Trump. He went on to Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. and was told by his professor, “There is a lack of seriousness of purpose in you.” He left Howard and came home to St. Croix.
He had a rough period in his late 20’s. He robbed a Washington D.C. Safeway grocery store in 1967, exchanging gunfire with police. Fleeing back home to the Virgin Islands, he later pleaded guilty, served his time and has not been in trouble since.
Moorhead was instrumental in creating and developing the United Caribbean Association in 1970. The organization celebrates the contributions of forefathers and present day leaders of the Virgin Islands.
A 1971 New York Times article quotes Moorhead saying the UCA’s goal is “Unification of all black people of the Caribbean … remove all forms of oppression and exploitation from the Caribbean … create an atmosphere in which we as black people can live in harmony and complement each other rather than compete with each other.”
Today, UCA has an establishment adjacent to Buddhoe Park that continues to serve as a meeting place and a venue for historical activities and celebrations, and is home to a vegetarian restaurant with a Rastafarian esthetic.
Asked recently what he sees in the future for the education of children in the Virgin Islands, Moorhead answered: “There is a desperate need for a change in our leadership. If we can produce the leadership in the environment we have, we have some latitude,” he said. “We are not a minority like a population in a big city. The federal government will still fund education as long as you keep to the core curriculum that they want, but they don’t prevent you from adding to it.”
“Why couldn’t we have a longer school day – a longer school year. Our children need to put more time into learning. They are special and they need special education. They are trained to be good, loyal and peaceful to supply the labor power for the machine.”
Moorhead taught math at St. Croix Central High School for nine months between the years 1969-1970.
“I was kicked out and arrested and charged with inciting the students to riot on campus,” he said. “I was teaching my students the importance of knowing themselves and of thinking for themselves.”
“Our children are ravenously hungry to learn about themselves – they are like orphans with no knowledge of who they are,” Moorhead continued.
Asked which leader would make a difference in our territory, he answered “David Hamilton Jackson. He was considered one of the founding fathers of the Virgin Islands of the U.S. and was instrumental in gaining support for the transfer of the islands.”
“I was six or seven years old when I was exposed to the brilliance of this man and what he did for our people. … As editor of the Herald, Jackson used it to educate the laboring class, giving them a voice to expose corruption. Jackson spent three months in Denmark challenging censorship on publications in the islands. And returned home and published the first free press on St. Croix,” he said, adding “it was many years later when I realized the full impact of who he was.”
Moorhead’s maternal grandfather, Christian Raymond Theodore Brow, knew Jackson and spoke to the youngster about the strength and intelligence the man possessed and how these assets furthered the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands.
“As young as I was, my grandfather engaged me in conversations about our people and why the labor revolt was so necessary. The powers to be needed our labor. We should have a right as to how our labor should be used. All we had was our labor. For a very long time I didn’t understand that, but I do now,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead’s formal and familial educational immersion produced the landscape for the young man to grow and thrive in his ability to think critically. He could trust his own thinking and not what the world told him he ought to accept and immobilize him as his own person.
Always reading and researching to learn more about himself and his humanity, Moorhead turned to the writings of writers and historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop, the Senegalese author of “The African Origin of Civilization” and many other eye-opening books that young Moorhead devoured and continues to read and reread.
Diop was the strongest opponent from Africa of bias in historical scholarship, stating that African history is the foundation of world history.
“We as black people have been convinced that we don’t amount to anything and we begin to believe it and then try to assimilate to the system we live under,” Moorhead said.
“I get in a lot of trouble stating my case that we are all alike as human beings but as people we are different. I like seasoned food, while someone else might like his or her food bland. Another person might like Shakespeare, but I like Richard Wright – he speaks to my humanity.”
Moorhead is an avid reader of author Richard Wright, who wrote novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. His literature covers racial themes, especially related to the plight of African Americans during the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, who suffered discrimination and violence in the South and the North.
“I have developed my own way of life and I discuss it in my book. My latest book ‘Us’ is going through a rewrite of the last chapter. My very dedicated editor Kenrick Vidale and I agreed that it needed another writing.”
“’Us’ will be available for reading within the next several months. The theme is about our people. It’s running close to 1,000 pages. That’s a lot of pages. My work should prove to be readable. Maybe the next generation might find it useful. Maybe my grandchildren will read it,” he said.
Many times, Moorhead spoke at Emancipation and Fireburn programs in Frederiksted, commemorating the 1848 rebellion that led to the freeing of enslaved persons in what is now the USVI and the 1878 labor revolt that ended near serf-like servitude among nominally free plantation workers. He would lecture at length, in accurate and sharp detail, about the historical conditions of the Virgin Islands people. And on several occasions he brought in Nation of Islam leader Rev. Louis Farrakhan to speak, not without controversy.
This year, Moorhead was a fierce advocate of a recent reapportionment initiative.
“The purpose of the reapportionment is to make our elected officials more accountable to constituents. The addition of six at-large senators is a return to the original checks and balances that were a part of the original 1954 Organic Act,” he said.
“All of my adult life I have been swimming against the current, Moorhead said. “The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve realized I am not in the same stream of consciousness as the status quo. We always end up clashing.”