Courtesy Reuters

Race Relations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

THE islands of the Caribbean differ in size, political affiliation, religious beliefs and language; but the basic difference is ethnic. Racially, the Caribbean falls into two distinct groups: the territories with a comparatively large white population, and the territories with a predominantly black or colored population.

In the 1940 United States census, the population of Puerto Rico was given as 76.55 percent white; the corresponding figure for the Virgin Islands was 9 percent. There are further divergencies within the Virgin Islands group. Only 3.2 percent of the population of the island of St. Croix was given as white, as compared with 15.8 percent for the island of St. Thomas. Charlotte Amalie, the chief city of St. Thomas, had a white population of 12.1 percent; the two chief cities of St. Croix had white populations of 2.2 and 4.3 percent respectively. This ethnic difference is the consequence of the particular economy developed in the various regions. Where the plantation economy based on sugar predominated, Negro slavery was essential and the territory automatically became black. The Virgin Islands fell in this category, together with Haiti and the British, French and Netherlands possessions. Where the small farmer survived, in a coffee or tobacco or livestock economy, white labor was predominant. Puerto Rico, Cuba and, to a lesser extent, the Dominican Republic were in this group.

The Negro made his appearance in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a chattel slave. But if Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have a common heritage of slavery, their economic development during the slavery period took divergent lines. Puerto Rico was always a white colony, a garrison rather than a plantation. The proportion of Negro slaves in Puerto Rico was never as high as elsewhere in the Caribbean, and never exceeded 14 percent of the population. Puerto Rico had a self-sufficient economy and its labor needs were satisfied by free men. Many of these free laborers were black or colored, but only for a brief period in the island's history did the non-white population exceed 50 percent

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