Celebrating Black History Month
Mooie’s in Cruz Bay is an island institution, just like the man behind the more than 50-year-old bar — namesake Theovald “Mooie” Moorehead.
Moorehead’s dedication to preserving island culture continued even after his passing in 1995, as Mooie’s is one of the few truly West Indian rum shops that remain on St. John.
But Moorehead was concerned about preserving more than just the old-time West Indian social scene — he was concerned about education and the island’s youth as well.
Moorehead called education in the Virgin Islands today “a disgrace” in a 1993 interview with Amy Roberts, who wrote a piece on the St. Johnian for the book “St. John People.”
“They’re turning out illiterate kids in the 12th grade,” Moore-head told Roberts. “How many people do you see now with a newspaper? People don’t read.”
“We didn’t have newspapers — they were an expensive thing in those days,” Moorehead continued. “The teacher had one, and everybody learned from it.”
Moorehead, who was fortunate enough to be sent to St. Thomas after the sixth grade to continue his education, recognized the sacrifice his parents made for him to have that opportunity, he told Roberts.
“Your parents sacrificed to send you to school,” he said. “You had to learn. You couldn’t go back and tell them you failed — they’d kill you!”
Teachers Had Authority
There was more authority given to teachers during Moorehead’s school days, which kept kids in line, he explained.
“You respected the teachers tremendously, and you liked them,” said Moorehead. “The teacher would slap you around, and then they’d tell your parents about it, and then you’d be damned sorry because you’d get another beating, too.”
Moorehead learned hard work and discipline by helping his parents, Edward Alfred Moore-head and Eugene Theodora Keating, keep up the family home, including polishing the silver by hand, weeding the garden and tending to the family’s horses and cattle.
Hard Work, Discipline
“One of the things we had to do was oil the harness and wax the saddles — they had to glisten, they had to shine,” said Moorehead in the 1993 interview. “We’d do what Tom Sawyer did — get the other kids to help and get it done in a few minutes.”
Moorehead held several pro-minent positions on St. John, and it was at his job as the island’s first Immigration and Customs Inspector where he met his wife, Genevieve Hendricks.
Moorehead’s concern for St. John residents was evident in the discretion he used when giving out fines for smuggling, which occurred often back then.
Discretion as Inspector
The import duty was 25 cents, while many laborers made less than 60 cents a day, Moorehead explained in his interview with Roberts.
“They weren’t trying to commit a crime,” said Moorehead. “They were trying to make a living. I’d give them a warning; sometimes I’d confiscate, but I wouldn’t put it in a report.”
Moorehead was well known on St. John for being an outspoken critic of the establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park.
“Unfortunately, the gift horse we have accepted is permanently installed in our stable — asking for more and more room, and threatening it seems, to kick us off the island entirely if we don’t ‘cooperate,’” wrote Moorehead in a 1958 letter to the Daily News. “And ‘cooperate’ means, we have learned, simply to agree to whatever is presented.”
No Condemnation of St. John
Moorehead saw to it that the entire island of St. John was not condemned for the National Park as was originally planned, Roberts explained in the book “St. John People.”
“Mooie spent 10 days in Washington ‘lobbying like hell’ — collaring senators and congressmen, and placing ads in the Washington Post to inform the public of the plan to take over the island,” Roberts stated. “His efforts paid off and the amendment which mandated the condemnation was defeated. Mooie became a local hero.”
Moorehead went on to serve in the United States Army for 12 years, when he was stationed throughout Europe, the U.S. and the Caribbean.
In 1956, when St. John’s first senator, Julius Sprauve, decided to retire, Moorehead decided to run for the seat at Sprauve’s urging.
“In all, Mooie spent 16 years in the Senate, traveling to St. Thomas during the week and returning to St. John on weekends, as in his high school days,” stated Roberts. “For six months of work, two weeks in session and two weeks off, senators earned an annual salary of $600 — less than one-hundredth of what they make now.”
Concern for St. Johnians
Moorehead introduced and co-sponsored several bills during his time in the Senate which reflected his concern for St. Johnians.
“For almost 16 years his bills and those he co-sponsored reflected his keen interest in St. John and the general welfare of the Virgin Islands,” according to the third edition of the book “Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders” by Ruth Moolenaar. “They included: scholarships for deserving students; a sewing project on St. John; the purchase of land on St. John for homestead development; development of a playground at Benjamin Franklin, now Guy Benjamin School on St. John; a home loan building fund for persons who have served or are serving in the armed forces; establishment of an insular trade school on St. John; and an amendment to the Virgin Islands Code to provide for an elected Washington representative of the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Today’s politicians don’t show a dedication to their jobs, Moorehead explained to Roberts in 1993.
“The people in charge, they don’t give a damn,” said Moorehead. “They’re only collecting a salary. It seems to me St. John was always more.”
Reminiscent of Old Times
Moorehead was involved in several other activities, including construction, real estate and insurance, however, his name is probably associated most with that bright pink landmark of a bar in Cruz Bay.
“The place hasn’t changed since I opened it on December 23, 1956,” Moorehead said in the interview with Roberts. “The prices don’t change. I don’t carry no fancy drinks.”
“The guys go in and shoot the breeze,” Moorehead continued. “The only thing that’s changed is the counter — it used to be a horseshoe.”
While Moorehead was busy serving in the Senate, he left Mooie’s unattended, he explained.
“I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to work, so I left it open and people would serve themselves,” said Moorehead. “I didn’t have a cash register. People would leave money on the shelf.”
Mooie’s, whose atmosphere is still reminiscent of old times on St. John, is now run by Moorehead’s daughter, Theodora Moorehead.