Evelyn Messer James: Eulogy of a Lady

Eulogy of Evelyn Messer James (March 29, 1931 – June 16, 2022)

Evelyn Messer James at age 80.

Prepared by:  Wayne A.G. James

Preface:

In my decades-long journey of family research, I have become acutely aware of the significance of each branch and each leaf on a family tree. And it was with that keen insight that I embarked upon the delightful task of creating a written record of the “leaf” that is Evelyn Messer James.

For many years, on account of a life lived abroad that rarely brought me home to St. Croix for extend-enough periods to sit with my mother and write her history, I harbored a premature sense of regret that I would one day lose the opportunity. But God and our ancestors had other plans…. 

The opportunity to sit with my dear mother, hour after hour, day after day—exactly the time needed to record a life as long and rich as Mommy’s—came in a most uncharacteristic, unpredictable, unprecedented way:  I was ordered by the District Court of the Virgin Islands of the United States to 24/7 home confinement as a result of my being declared a “flight risk” during the legal proceedings pertaining to “financial inconsistencies” that occurred during my term as senator. 

On September 4, 2017, while confined to the home of my sister Grete (“Patsy”), Mommy and my brother Kevin came to pay us a visit.  And while visiting, word of the fast-approaching Hurricane Irma came across the airwaves. Kevin left Patsy’s house in order to secure La Grange House.  But Mommy stayed behind with me and Patsy.  And it is that fateful decision that enabled the long-overdue “Conversations with Evelyn Messer James,” a 35-page, single-spaced document detailing Mommy’s extraordinary life—from her birth atop a Crucian four-poster mahogany bedstead at “Schoolhouse” in Annaly, to her Saks Fifth Avenue wedding gown, to her intrepid sojourn to the nation’s capital to obtain her first university degree then to New York to earn her second, to her insightful foray into forestry.  

With her characteristic tenacity, Mommy would each morning make her way to the room I was occupying, lie upon the bed, and begin recounting her life.  “My memory isn’t like it once was,” she would say whenever she was not 100% sure of her recall, “but this is how it happened….”

Thus, after approximately two weeks of hours-long sessions each day, Mommy simply stated, “You have everything now.  I want the generations to come to know me. Maybe you can one day write a book about my life.  Or maybe an official document—just something so that they will know me after I am long gone.”  

It is those conversations, along with my God-given gift of recall, that serve as the basis for this eulogy of Evelyn Marie Messer James.

The Eulogy:

Evelyn Messer James at age 19.

Many a boy—perhaps until he starts looking at movies and at magazines—believes that his mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.  Then, typically in his teenage years, he starts to think otherwise. I, however, never stopped believing that my mother, Evelyn Marie Messer James, was the world’s most beautiful woman.

I recall one night in the summer of 1970, while marveling at my mother’s beauty, I asked, “Mommy, who is the world’s most beautiful lady?”  And Mommy replied, “There is no such thing.  There are many forms of beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But it is often said that Elizabeth Taylor is the world’s most beautiful woman.”

As Life would have it, that very night, within minutes of our conversation, the movie, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” starring Elizabeth Taylor, came on the television. Wanting to see with my own two eyes who was the woman who could upstage my mother, I looked at the movie.  And as the great actress made her appearance, I exclaimed, “But Mommy, you are prettier than Elizabeth Taylor!” But in Mommy’s unassuming way, she modestly replied, “Wait ‘til you see her in Cleopatra.”

Later in life, I would have to concede that the great Naomi Campbell came a close second. But Mommy had better cheekbones.

Evelyn Messer James was Crucian to the bone.  She is a leaf on a mighty baobab that came across the Atlantic in the hold of a slaving vessel as a mere seed.  That seed took root on St. Croix in the early decades of the 1700s, and it has thrived ever since.

The Lineages:

Mommy is one of but a handful of remaining Crucian who can claim—with documentation—that they descend on both sides from people, all of whom were born on St. Croix once transplanted from Africa. Her maternal great-great-great-grandmother is Hope, born in 1776 at Estate Biddlestone (today called Estate Punch), which was at the time the “sister plantation” to Annaly.  Hope is the mother of Grace Andrew, born at Annaly in 1806; Grace is the mother of Lucia Stevens, born in Annaly in 1840; Lucia is the mother of Julia Samuel, born in Annaly in 1864; Julia is the mother of Catherine Batiste, born in Annaly in 1892; and Catherine is the mother of Evelyn, born in Annaly in 1931.  On her father’s side, she descends from a long line of Princes.  Anthony Prince, born free on St. Croix in 1759 (the year of the first St. Croix slave insurrection), owned property on Hospital Street in the “Free Gut” section of Frederiksted, made his living as a cooper, and lived until the age of 96, dying in 1856. He, it is said in the family’s oral history, was the son of an African prince who was  enslaved and brought to St. Croix in the earliest years of the Danish era (1733 -1917), hence the surname Prince.  Anthony Prince (1759 -1856) is the father of Anthony Prince, born in 1777 at Estate Campo Rico.  Like his father, his profession was that of cooper.  His son, Richard “Dick Richard” Prince, was born on St. Croix in 1810, his mother being Sablona Williams.  And like his forefathers, he, too, was a cooper.  In 1865, “Dick Richard” Prince fathered Andrina Prince, born at Estate Two Friends. And Andrina is the mother of Carl Augustus Messer, the father of Evelyn Messer James, born at “Schoolhouse” at Annaly in 1931. 

Idyllic Annaly:

For Mommy, Annaly, with its gentle hills, verdant pastures, and magnificent bay, was Arcadia, her Utopia, a Crucian Camelot.  And throughout her life, whenever she spoke of Annaly, it was clear that in her mind, it was sacred ground. After all, several branches of her family come from Annaly.

Born to Carl Augustus Messer (1890 – 1971) and Catherine Batiste Messer (1892 -1967), Mommy was the 10th of 12 children—six boys, six girls—10 of whom lived into adulthood. From St. Croix’s storied “Northside” in general, and Annaly in particular, she derived her sense of being and of belonging. And for the duration of her Earthly existence, Annaly’s soil and air served to rejuvenate her.  She always longed for Annaly; many a “navel string” of her family is buried there. And the Annaly plantation cemetery is filled with the remains of her ancestors. To Mommy, Annaly is hallowed ground.

The Childhood Years:

To hear Mommy speak of her childhood days in Annaly is to hear her speak of a paradise on Earth. Along with her siblings, namely Alvin (1911), honorifically called “Dada” by his siblings; Eileen (1913), addressed by her brothers and sisters as “Sister”; Lionel (1915) (“Leo”); Charles (1918) (“Charlie”); Gerald (1921); Leona (1925); Ann-Eliza (1927); Christian (1933); and Clarissa (1936);  Merle Henry, who lived with the family as a sister for several years of her childhood; and the Messers’ dear, dear cousins, the offspring of Ann Richards Heyliger, daughter of Evelina Williams Richards, Mommy lived a life of bucolic beauty. But as Heaven had its Lucifer, Annaly had its “Capitan.”  

“Run, Catherine! Run! Capitan comin’ afta we!” exclaimed Mommy when she realized that Capitan, the ferocious bull owned by the Lawaetz family, was in hot pursuit. [The Messer children called their mother by her first name.]

Noticing that Merle, Christian, and Evelyn were taking longer than normal to return from their daily journey to the Spring Garden gut, Catherine set out on foot to find the children, who had managed to quietly bypass Capitan as he was grazing by the roadside, seemingly oblivious of them. But knowing the bull’s wicked nature and vicious temperament, the children, upon rounding the bend in the road, took off running, knowing that the bull would likely abandon his grazing to pursue them.   

To the horror of the children, upon rounding the bend, they encountered Catherine and young Clarissa on the road—heading towards Capitan!

Catherine Batiste Messer was a 6’ 4”, strapping lady.  And for her, “running” was, at best, a brisk walk.  But on that day, she hurriedly gathered up the hemline of her ankle-length frock and hastened towards the safety of “Schoolhouse,” the children run-walking by her side to ensure their collective safety. 

It seemed like only seconds after they made it into the safety of their home that Capitan entered the yard, nostrils flaring, eyes glaring. Searching frantically for a victim but finding none, he redirected his wrath towards the water drums alongside the house, tossing them about like playthings in his fit of fury.

“When my father came home later that evening and we told him the story, he immediately grabbed his machete and marched up to Mr. Lawaetz’s house, telling him that if Capitan ever set foot in his yard again, he would be a dead bull. Carl Messer, well-known on the Northside as a stick-fighter in the West African tradition, was a fearless man.  And he raised us to fear no man—only God The Almighty,” Mommy said, her admiration for her father almost palpable.  

And it is to Mommy’s fearless nature that I attribute her remarkable honesty:  In my 60 years on this Earth, I have never—not even once—heard my mother tell a lie (or, as she would say, an “untruth,” since in our family, the word “lie” is a “bad word”). She never had to tell a lie because she was never afraid of telling the truth.  She was fearless.

Years later, in 1996 when Merle returned to St. Croix to attend Aunt Eileen’s funeral, Mommy and Merle were one afternoon sitting at La Grange, reminiscing about their childhood days at Annaly. And Merle, to whom Mommy was fearless and invincible, was shocked to learn that Mommy was terrified during her childhood years of the setting sun, that lurid orb in the sky.

 “Whenever I would look towards the west and see the big, red sun in the sky, it somehow seemed to me to be a demon,” Mommy divulged.  “I never admitted to anyone that I was afraid of the setting sun. But did you ever notice that I would always hastily abandon whatever we were doing to go inside the house around sunset?  I wasn’t afraid of the dark.  But I was always afraid of the setting sun.”

Much of Mommy’s bravery came from her physical prowess. From the earliest years of her schooldays, she and her siblings, along with their Heyliger cousins, would walk the four miles from Annaly to Jolly Hill to catch the bus to St. Patrick’s School.  And on the days that they missed the bus, they would have to cut across La Grange to get to school, all on foot.  So, by the time Evelyn was a teenager, she was “bull-strong.”  She was a tall, strong girl—the girl who could beat the best of the boys in a fist fight, so much so that the nun’s at St. Patrick’s dubbed her “Joe Lewis.”

Her dear brother Gerald, 10 years her senior, trained as a boxer while a member of the CCC Camp.  And he taught Mommy all he knew.  Despite the age disparity, Mommy and Uncle Gerald were inseparable all their lives together on this Earth.  “Evie,” he used to tell her, “avoid a fight if you can.  But if you know for a fact that it will end in a fight, hit first—and second.  And hopefully, you won’t have to do anymore hitting after that.”

“Come, Evelyn! Hurry! Ohanio fightin’ Christian!’ shouted our cousin Gloria Harris, daughter of Irene Stewart Harris, as she hurriedly approached where Mommy was sitting, studying for her geography test.

“I was sitting on the wall outside St. Patrick’s Church, facing Arthur Abel’s house, when Gloria came running,” Mommy said. “ I grabbed up my book and ran along with Gloria to just outside St. Gerard’s Hall, where the fight was taking place.

“I, holding the big geography book vertically in both hands, brought it with all my force down the length of Ohanio’s face. That’s when he let loose of Christian and grabbed me, trying to lift me off my feet.  But I knew that trick, so I braced one leg behind the other so that he could only, at best, get ahold of one leg, then I bent down and lifted him off his feet.  And by the time I got through with him, he had two black eyes, a bloody lip, his shirt was in shreds, and I had bitten his St. Patrick’s school tie in two.  Mother Alban parted the fight.  And Mother Constantina administered the punishment:  seven lashes each.

“I soon forgot the lashes, but the tongue-lashing remained with me for the rest of my life.  Mother Constantina said, ‘Evelyn, you box like Joe Lewis and you grapple like a Roman gladiator. But you are a beautiful girl.  And if you keep fighting, one day your beautiful skin will be indelibly marked.’

“That was my last fight. I never fought again.  I took Mother Constantina’s advice to heart. But that day, I had to give Ohanio what he deserved.  He was the bully of the school, beating up all the boys. He didn’t come to me in peace.  So, I sent him away in pieces.  He never returned to St. Patrick’s after that day.  They sent him away to New York.”

In 1946, in celebration of William Henry Hastie’s appointment as the first black governor of the United States Virgin Islands, there was a parade in the town of Frederiksted:

“At the end of the school day on a Friday, Mother Ermine told me to report back to school the following day, on Saturday morning. In those days, you didn’t ask a nun ‘why?’ So, I did as instructed,” Mommy said.  “When I arrived at school, the nuns ushered me into one of the classrooms, where they dressed me in a beautiful gown made of paper.  And the next thing I know, I was on a float in the parade, representing St. Patrick’s School.  A photo was taken of me in that paper gown on that float.  And when C.R.T. Brow saw the photo, he exclaimed, ‘Now that’s a black beauty!’ The Northside Puerto Ricans used to call me ‘Linda’ when I was a girl.”

Pretty dresses were very much a part of the Messer household.  The aptitude for sewing was, apparently, inherited from the paternal line:  Carl Messer wielded a bodkin as a saddler and a sewing-needle as the sugar-sack maker at the Bethlehem Sugar Factory. But the art of dressmaking was introduced to the Messer girls when Aunt Leona apprenticed with a Ms. Latimer of the town of Frederiksted.  Aunt Leona quickly mastered the trade and passed it on, as fast as she was learning it, to Aunt Ann-Eliza and Mommy, then, finally, to Aunt Clarissa when she came of age.

Mommy could sew anything—from an apron to an haute couture gown to liturgical vestments. And it is with her great skill that she made the wedding gowns for Erna’s 1968 wedding, 1974 double wedding of Patsy and Laurel, and Jennifer’s 1975 wedding. And when Charlene Brow, daughter of Miriam Williams Brow and C.R.T. Brow, was getting married, she came to Mommy and said, “Mrs. James, you made my First Communion and Confirmation dresses.  And those dresses were absolutely beautiful.  So, I would be honored if you would make my wedding gown.”

Mommy, who had long given up the needle of her younger years for the pen of her adult years, brushed off her Singer sewing machine and gladly made Charlene an exquisite wedding gown.  That would be the last time Mommy sewed for anyone outside her immediate family.

But the legacy of fashion did not end with her generation.  I, as is well known, became a fashion designer immediately after graduating from Georgetown Law, my garments having been sold in some of the world’s finest stores and my collections lauded by the fashion industry’s foremost critics. And like my mother before me, who made liturgical vestments for the priests at St. Patrick’s, in 1989, in celebration of Georgetown University’s bi-centennial, I was commissioned to design the vestments for the Jesuits, a commission which led to a commission to design vestments for Pope John Paul II in 1990.  

The Wedding of Gustav Alexander James and Evelyn Marie Messer at Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Estate Montpellier on St. Croix.

The Engagement and the Wedding:

The engagement was simple: Gustav put a plain gold band, created by Crucian jeweler Monroe Clendinen, on Mommy’s ring-finger and said, “Consider yourself married.”

Then the wedding plans started in earnest: “Sister sent me the wedding gown, a bouquet of silk flowers, and silk shoes from Saks Fifth Avenue.  She enlisted Leona to purchase the veil. Sister also purchased my silver dinner service.

“The wedding took place at Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Estate Montpellier, officiated by Father Mark Knoll, Gustav’s friend. Ivan [James, younger brother of Gustav] was the best man. The wedding band, stylized with Roman numerals, was crafted by Monroe Clendinen.  Marie Desau, Louis Brown’s mother and great-grandmother to Judge Patricia Steele, baked the wedding cake. We had a simple reception at Schoolhouse.”

On their wedding day, Daddy, Gustav A. James, Sr. (1919 – 1983) established his young family at 32A Hospital Street in the “Free Gut” section of Frederiksted, a stone’s through from Mommy’s Prince-Messer ancestral home at 32C Hospital Street.

When Daddy and Mommy got married, it was a match in the making for more than 200 years, for major branches of their respective family trees bore fruit at Annaly. Mommy descends from Hope, born at Estate Biddlestone (later called Estate Punch) in 1776. And Daddy descends from Thomas, born at Estate Biddlestone in 1776.  By 1786, the two children had been transferred to Estate Annaly, each thereafter establishing his/her respective line:  Hope and Andrew of Annaly producing Grace Andrew (b. 1806), Mommy’s great-great-grandmother; and Thomas and Azontha (born in Africa in 1785 and brought to St. Croix at the age of 13 in 1798) producing Christianah Thomas of Annaly, Daddy’s great-great-grandmother. And, as is to be expected, with the two families co-existing on the same plantation for almost 200 years before Daddy and Mommy united the families as one, the families had long criss-crossed, intermarried, and interrelated. In essence, then, Mommy and Daddy knew each other from long before they were born, let alone married.

“When I was at St. Patrick’s, I used to see Gustav each morning, walking up the street in front of St. Gerard’s Hall, heading towards the new convent to turn on the water for James La Grange. I had no idea then that he would one day be my husband,” Mommy would often recount.

Gustav James and Evelyn Messer James with their children on the grand staircase of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Frederiksted, St. Croix in 1964

The Young Family:

Mommy bore her children quickly—12 in 19 years.  Forever connected to Annaly, her first three children—Magnolia, Erna, and Winfield—were delivered at “Schoolhouse,” under the careful eyes of her mother Catherine, who had herself given birth to 12. 

When Joan and Jo-Ann—Mommy’s two babies born between Gustav, Jr., (“Jim”) and Jennifer—were born premature, dying within days of their births, Granny, in all her wisdom, consoled her daughter thus: “Evelyn, every day, we get from the Earth. But sometimes we have to give back to the Earth.”

Eirno Ritter, close relative of Isaac Gateword James (1893 – 1978), father of Gustav James, Sr., made the coffins for the infants, and Daddy buried them in the Prince-Messer plot in the Frederiksted Cemetery. Mommy always referred to Joan and Jo-Ann as her “two angels.” And Mommy’s paternal uncle, “Brother ‘Fonsa,” always maintained that baby Joan was the prettiest baby he had ever seen.

“When I lost the two children, the doctor told me that I could no longer be as active during pregnancy as I had always been, running up and down steps like in my girlhood and with the previous pregnancies.  So, when I became pregnant with Jennifer, I was more cautious, and the rest of you came without incident,” Mommy recalled with a tone of immense gratitude in her voice.

The couple raised the 10 surviving children, educating them all at St. Patrick’s, St. Mary’s, and St. Joseph’s Catholic schools, thereafter sending them off to various universities around the country, some Catholic.

Mommy’s Close Friends:

Mommy was not a lady inclined towards many friendships.  But the few she had were dear friends. Sylvie Matthews Henry, wife of John Henry and mother of Cordell, Rudyard, Omar, Blondell, Hillary, etc., and Clacie Robinson, mother of Alfonso Brewster, Mommy’s first godchild, were her dear, dear friends of her early adulthood.

During Mommy’s university years in Washington, DC, she forged friendships with people from around the world: James Meaner from Sierra Leone, Joyce Wong Henry from Guyana, and Kasim from the Middle East. They supported each other, shared their native dishes with each other, and would sometimes meet for social gatherings at our apartment on Mt. Pleasant Street in NW Washington, DC.

In adulthood, Mommy’s dear friend was Marilyn Martin, originally of the Dominican Republic, who not only coiffed Mommy, but also served as her confidante.  And when Mommy started traveling to New York on the buying-trips for Carl-Michael’s, she and Valerie Stephenson of Jamaica became dear friends.

Evelyn Messer James at age 40.

Introduction to Professional Life:

One of my earliest memories of Mommy is of her in the kitchen, making a huge pot of red peas soup. And as a special treat to me, she stuck two of the dumplings onto the outside of the pot, allowing them to toast to a biscuit-like consistency.  I must have been less than two years old because by 1963, after years as a housewife and homemaker while Daddy owned and operated his dry good/varietys store that his father had established a generation earlier, Mommy embarked on her professional career, never looking back. 

In order to ready herself for the professional world, Mommy enrolled in several business courses taught in the evenings by Miriam Brow, godmother of Mommy’s eldest son Winfield, at the Claude O. Markoe School.  There, Mommy took typing (Daddy bought her a big, green typewriter so that she could practice at home), office skills, and bookkeeping. And when Mommy got her first professional job with the Department of Public Safety, her supervisors, who had been accustomed to having to conduct on-the-job training, were pleasantly surprised—and relieved.

“I would like to place some flowers on the grave of Miriam,” Mommy said during our September 2017 conversations. “She helped me a lot.”

“Miriam prepared me well—everything from how to type forms with carbon paper, to how to manage the books of a business.  Mommy also credits Evadney Neazer Peterson as being one her mentors in the early years of her aspiration towards a professional career.

Once flexing her wings in the professional arena, Mommy then became one of the founding members of the Frederiksted Chapter of BPW (Business and Professional Women’s Club).  Within its membership, she found camaraderie with like-minded women who helped blaze the trail for Virgin Islands women in government, business, politics, and higher education.

Evelyn Messer James as a young member of BPW.

But in many ways, Mommy’s introduction to business came at a much earlier age, when she would observe how her mother would wholesale “Schoolhouse” fresh produce to the produce retailers and marketplace vendors of Christiansted. And when, at the age of eight, Mommy went to live with her father’s younger sister, Eileen Messer (1906 – 1940), in whose honor Mommy’s eldest sister is named, Mommy became the “righthand girl” of “Big Aunt Eileen,” who had established what was in effect a “cook shop” outside her home in the La Grange village in order to provide lunch for the factory workers. Big Aunt Eileen would have Mommy run to town, during her lunch breaks from St. Patrick’s School, to purchase the necessary ingredients for the cook shop.  And Mommy witnessed, first-hand, how to factor in costs in order to price products and services at a profit.

But it was when Mommy, from 1940-41, went to live in Christiansted with Councilman Andrew Pedro and his wife that Mommy whetted her appetite for business.

Mommy’s maternal great-grandmother was Lucia Stevens Pedro (1840 – 1878) of Annaly.  So, when Andrew Pedro and his wife, who were childless, returned to St. Croix after some years of living in the States, he came to Annaly to ask Granny if she could let one of the children live with him and his wife at his home in Christiansted. My grandparents agreed.  And at the age of 10, Mommy withdrew from St. Patrick’s and was enrolled in St. Mary’s, Arnold Mortimer Golden being one of her classmates. 

“I had a wonderful time with the Pedros,” Mommy would say throughout the remainder of her life. “I was his little ‘Business Representative.’  He used to manage the properties of Crucians who were living in the States.  So, I would collect the rents in cash, issue receipts for the collected cash, purchase corresponding postal money orders, and mail the money orders to the people in the States.  I also used to accompany Mr. Pedro to the many political events he attended.  And we would get into his car and drive to Cramer’s Park, which was being constructed in those years.  I was like a little business executive. And I enjoyed having so many responsibilities. I felt grown.”

Mommy also spoke exceedingly affectionately about the two older girls who lived near the Pedro house, which was situated on the corner of Queen and King Cross Streets, the building that years later housed Brady’s Restaurant on the ground level. 

“Those two girls, knowing that I was a Frederiksted girl, took me under their wings like two big sisters.  They were very loving towards me.  I will never forget their kindness,” Mommy said, her voice filled with nostalgia.  “And every morning, religiously, a lady used to come to comb my hair for me. Mrs. Pedro used to pay the lady five cents each day. I had my own, private beautician at age 10!  I don’t recall the lady’s name. She was very nice to me.  I wish I had paid more attention to such things back then.  Had I recalled her name, I would thank her today by laying a wreath on her grave.  My days in Christiansted were wonderful days…. We should purchase the Pedro house and restore it to its former glory.  It was a beautiful property.  We should look into acquiring it.  We have history in that house.”

Higher Education and Professional Life:

So, when Mommy transferred from the Department of Public Safety for a better position with the Department of Health, she started the job with a professionalism that got her immediately noticed by her supervisor, Theodore Thomas, and Health Commissioner Melvin H. Evans. And they encouraged and facilitated her interest in furthering her education, recommending that she apply for the prestigious Morris F. de Castro Scholarship, which she was awarded.

In 1968, Mommy and Daddy struck a deal:  Mommy, mother of 10 children, would head off to the U.S. Mainland to further her education.  Mommy would take the four youngest children—Jennifer, Kevin, Michael, and me with her to Washington, DC, where she would study at the Benjamin Franklin University (which later merged with George Washington University); and Daddy would remain on St. Croix with the three older children who had not yet left home to pursue their studies—Patsy, Laurel, and Gustav, Jr.  Our first-cousin, Dennis Morris, Aunt Ann-Eliza’s son, also lived with Daddy during that time.

Of course, there was talk:  that the plan would put a strain on the marriage; that Mommy should stay on St. Croix and look after all her children; that Mommy should just go to C.V.I. and make do with that.

But Daddy and Mommy knew what they were doing. And in the summer of 1971, Mommy, at age 40, obtained her first university degree.  Then, at age 50 in 1981, she obtained her second degree, this one from Pace University in New York.  Always seeking knowledge, Mommy later enrolled in the Master’s of Public Administration program at the University of the Virgin Islands. And in the early 2000s, when e-commerce was still in its infancy, Mommy established www.CarlMichaelGifts.com and enrolled in computer classes at UVI to learn how to build, update, and manage her website and her online venture.

“It was Brother ‘Fonsa who sparked my desire for education,” Mommy said.  “When I was a schoolgirl, he would each year buy me a new bookbag and a straw hat. He was proud of my interest in learning. And he always encouraged me. We need to erect a tombstone on his gravesite. Brother ‘Fonsa was my uncle. But he was like a father to me.

“You can do everything you set your mind to,” Mommy would always say.  “But you can’t do everything at once. I wanted a lot of children, and I wanted a lot of education.  So, I got the children, then I went off to school. I have never regretted it.  Gustav was a great support.  Few men would have done what he did. If I didn’t have a husband and a houseful of children, I would have been a racecar driver.  I never pursued that career, but I drove fast whenever I could. For my second car, I had to choose between a Mustang and a Pontiac Firebird. I chose the Firebird because it’s speedometer went up to 160.” Mommy was an extraordinary lady.

Mommy’s Entrepreneurial Years:

On November 11, 1983, Evelyn Messer James became a widow. She was 52 years old. Family friend, Dr. Gilbert Sprauve of the island of St. John promised the family that he would make himself available to accompany Mommy to public functions and to give fatherly counseling to me and my siblings.  And for almost 40 years, Dr. Sprauve unwaveringly kept his promise.  And when I became ensnared in my legal quagmire, Dr. Sprauve came to my assistance like a father.

In 1998, after 25 years of service to the Virgin Islands Government, Evelyn Messer James retired, her last position being that of Senior Health Planner for the Department of Health.  But she didn’t just go off quietly into the sunset.  Instead, she spread her wings even more:  Dr. Sprauve accompanied her to Alaska, Central America,South America, and the Hawaiian Islands; she traveled to West Africa; Dr. Sprauve again accompanied her on a grand tour of Europe; and Mommy traveled to many of the Caribbean islands. (And, of course, during her early adult years, Mommy traveled extensively in Canada and to many of the States as a member of BPW).

In December of 2002, Evelyn Messer James traveled to Foumban, Cameroon, West Africa, to attend the royal wedding of her youngest daughter, Jennifer Claudia James, to His Royal Highness Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya (1937 – 2021), King of the Bamoun Nation of Camerron. King Njoya was the 19th monarch of the Bamoun kingdom, with its unbroken line of royal succession reaching back to the 1300s.

HRH Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya (1937-2021) and HRH Jennifer James Njoya in a royal photo, circa 2002.

In many ways, perhaps in tribute to Daddy, who supported the family with the proceeds from the dry goods/variety store which he owned and operated from 1941 -1968, Mommy established Carl-Michael’s, a dry goods/variety store in her beloved town of Frederiksted, selling everything from children’s clothing to fabrics and notions to school uniforms to costume jewelry and household items.  And as a salute to her late husband, Mommy used in her store some of the original showcases from Daddy’s store.

Just as Mommy had been the “right hand girl” for her Big Aunt Eileen and for Councilman Andrew Pedro, her third-eldest grandchild, Oceana James, became her “right hand girl” upon the opening of Carl-Michael’s in 1985. 

Mommy delighted in the buying-trips to New York to select goods and fabrics for the store.  She even revived decades-old business relationships with the Puerto Rico-based wholesaler, such as Alonzo Sobrino, with whom Daddy, and Grandfather James before him, had done business.

Community Service:

“For years, Mommy kept up correspondence with a nun in Haiti whom she first met years ago on St. Croix while the nun was on mission here,” Oceana said.  “For years, Mommy would send money and products to help the school in Haiti where the nun worked. For a little while, around the time of the earthquake, they were not in communication.  But they got back in touch with each other, and Mommy kept supporting the school.”

Mommy was always keenly aware of her need to give to her community. In the early 1950s, she lent her theatrical talents to the St. Patrick’s Church community theater productions, directed by Father Frank, one of the most notable being her capacity-crowd performances at St. Gerard’s Hall in Nuts and Bolts.  Mommy was also a member of the Catholic Families Movement (CFM), spearheaded by Sister Mary Marthe Vanrompey, the organization’s mission being to encourage the self-sufficiency of Catholic families. Mommy contributed to the organization’s effort by teaching classes on sewing.

Mommy also participated in the political process, serving for many years as an elected member of the Board of Elections, and running for the Virgin Islands Legislature in 2000 and Delegate for the Fifth Constitutional Convention.

In the 1990s, Evelyn Messer James donated her expertise in grant-writing/-management by serving as Executive Director of Our Town Frederiksted, overseeing its “Scrape-and-Paint” program, the goal of which was to beautify and maintain the many historic structures of her beloved town.

Of all Mommy’s charitable causes, however, the one nearest and dearest to her heart was the initiative she and Daddy established in 1981:  The Committee to Restore the Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Estate Montpellier.  Together with the island’s “Northside” families and friends from the Catholic Eastern Caribbean islands, Mommy and Daddy began raising funds to restore the country chapel in which they were married.  In the end, it was decided for security reasons that it would be best to reconfigure the chapel as an open-air place of worship.

But just as Mommy’s foundation in business came from her childhood experiences with Big Aunt Eileen and Councilman Andrew Pedro, her inclination for charitable endeavors took root when she was in her pre-teen years and would visit her paternal grandmother, Andrina Prince Messer (1865 -1941), assisting her in the final decade of her life.

To visit her grandmother Andrina and uncle Alfonso “Brother ‘Fonsa” Messer (1896-1973) at the family’s 32C Hospital Street home in “Free Gut” (the section of the town designated in the era of Danish slavery on St. Croix [1733 -1848] for the town’s free black population) was the historic equivalent of a “religious experience”:  Mommy’s great-great-great-grandfather Anthony Prince (1759-1856) established the one-level stone structure, with its 3 ft.-thick walls, as the family’s residence. It is at that home, with its brick oven in the yard, that Andrina baked her town-famous black bread and taught the profession of baking to several of the town’s young people. 

At Hospital Street, Mommy also learned about her Messer line–that it can be traced back on St. Croix all the way to 1758, when Johanne Messer was born to a German father and a black lady. Born free, Johanne went on to become Captain of the Frederiksted Town Watch. He died in 1843 and is buried in the St. Paul’s Anglican Cemetery in Frederiksted. Research on the Messer line continues, with efforts underway to uncover the names of the parents of Johanne.

At her grandmother’s house, Mommy heard about her two paternal uncles, Alexander, born in 1888, and Richard, born in 1893, who migrated to Cuba in the second decade of the 1900s to work in that great island’s sugarcane industry and to play music.  And it was at that house that Mommy would sit and listen to “Brother ‘Fonsa” play his guitar in his unique, pluck-strum way, a method he passed on to his young cousin Jamesie Brewster. Mommy used to beg Brother ‘Fonsa to teach her how to play the guitar, but he always refused, telling her that the guitar strings would toughen the tips of her fingers in a manner unbecoming a lady. At that same house, Mommy would help her grandmother comb her hair, get dressed in her stocking, help her place her shawl onto her shoulders, then, together, they would stroll along the streets of “Free Gut,” saying “Howdy” to relatives and friends alike. Mommy learned “the old ways” from “the old people”:   Need to move bruised blood?  Drink bitter, unsweetened white root tea.  Have a high fever?  Place fresh soursop leaves under the sheet. Want to whiten your teeth?  Brush them with coal pot ashes. She also learned the old wisdoms: “What ain’t meet yoh ain’t pass yoh”; “Don’t envy people for what they have because you don’t know how they come by it”; “Leave them to the foot of the cross.” Also at that house Mommy honed the cooking and baking skills she had already learned from her mother Catherine, thereby mastering kallaloo, maufe, souse, red pease soup,boiled fish and fungi, Crucian Vienna cake, and potato stuffing, for example.

And, of course, at that ancestral dwelling place, Mommy also learned of her ancestors: Isabella, born at Estate Two Friends in 1772, is the mother of Nelly Barry, born at Estate Two Friends in 1809; and Nelly is the mother of Ann-Eliza James, born at Estate Two Friends in 1833, and she then gives birth to Andrina Prince (Messer) in 1865 at Estate Two Friends.

Mommy’s mother, Catherine Batiste Messer, was the daughter of Francis Batiste, born at Annaly in 1862 and died when crushed in a cart accident at the age of 30 in 1892, a few months before Catherine was born. Francis’ mother, Maria James, born at Annaly in 1829, married Francis’ father, Ferdinand Batiste, a mason from Estate Punch, in 1863 at St. Patrick’s Church. And Maria James Batiste is the granddaughter of Angelic (James) of Annaly, born, according to Annaly, in 1749, and gave birth to 17 children, 16 of whom she outlived.  When she died on July 26, 1849, one year after Emancipation, Annaly recorded her age at death at 100, but St. Patrick’s recorded her death age at 120 years old.

And Catherine’s mother, Julia Samuel, born at Annaly in 1864, is the daughter of Charles A. Samuel, born at Estate Mt. Stewart in 1839, becoming the overseer of the plantation.  His mother, Maria David Samuel, was born at Mt. Stewart in 1813.   

So, from an early age, Mommy was well aware of her deep roots on St. Croix—that she was a leaf on a magnificent baobab that made its way across the mighty Atlantic as a seed, germinating and taking root on St. Croix in the earliest years of the Danish era and perhaps even in the era of the French (1650-1695/1733).

The Retirement Years:

When Mommy closed Carl-Michael’s after 12 successful years in business, she immediately took up yet another project, for Mommy had a penchant for projects—whether a correspondence course on becoming an author, or dabbling as a travel referral agent as a member of Travelone International, or writing down traditional recipes with the intention of starting a Crucian Cooking Channel. But the project that took root immediately—literally and figuratively—and gave Mommy the most satisfaction was her brilliant idea to establish a palm grove at La Grange.

“We have the acreage,” she said with her characteristic confidence. “And La Grange has an abundance of water—just what the Royal Palm thrives on.”

At the western entrance of La Grange House, not far from the old, elegant, limestone pillars that punctuate the driveway like two exclamation marks, once stood a tall, slender Royal Palm. Roystonea borinquena, a vestige of the Danish era.  Like a lone sentinel looking over the James family, the palm is believed to have been planted in the 1890s.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Mommy started, painstakingly each day, collecting the seedlings from around the base of the great palm. She would gently collect them, then transfer them to starter-pots atop a large table shaded by one of great mahogany trees that surround the house.  There, on that table, as if tending to her many babies in a nursery, Mommy nurtured each plant. 

She then hired a gardener to establish a palm grove on the southern end of the property, not far from the La Grange gut. And today, 20 years later, the grove is thriving, with hundreds of palms reaching for the heavens. 

“I established the grove knowing that it would mature after I am gone,” Mommy said mater-of-factly.  “Every generation of a family should endeavor to surpass the one that preceded it.  It’s called progress.  The family will benefit from my palm grove for generations to come.”

The Final Years:

In Mommy’s last years of active life, her son Kevin became her “right hand man,” running her errands, chauffeuring her to and fro. He died unexpectedly on May 8, 2019, one month shy of his 60th birthday. From St. Thomas, Erna managed Mommy’s finances, her healthcare, and her household staff.  Patsy was her hands-on caretaker, accompanying her to her medical appointments.  And Laurel did all Mommy’s shopping for groceries and household needs. Mommy wanted for nothing.  

During my time with Mommy while we were both at Patsy’s house from September 2017 to January 2018, Mommy would each day come to the room I was occupying and just lie on the bed.  I would marvel at her beauty. Even at her age, she still had the best cheekbones of all time….

During those long days together, Mommy often spoke of her profound admiration for her eldest siblings: Dada, Sister, Leo, and Charlie.  They had served as good examples for their younger siblings.

Mommy also reminisced about her favorite Annaly pets: Shingee, the wolflike dog that sucked water like a pig rather than lapping it like a dog; Bones, Shingee’s fungi dog companion; the black donkey that Uncle Christian named “Organdy”; Blue Bell, the roan Thoroughbred broodmare that Grandfather used to breed with the island’s top stallions to produce offspring for sale to Puerto Rico; and Dandy, the gentle gelding that would allow Mommy to braid its tail whenever she pleased.

Mommy vividly recalled the day Dandy returned home to “Schoolhouse,” pulling the cart, but without Grandfather in the driver’s seat.  Granny and Aunt Leona immediately got into the cart, allowing Dandy to lead them to Grandfather, who had fallen off the cart into the Montpellier gut, lying there unconscious.  “Dandy was a great horse,” Mommy said.  “I loved Dandy.”

And oftentimes, when I was almost certain that she was fast asleep, I would observe her gracefully and silently make the sign of the cross on her person, then seamlessly resume her sleeplike state.

One day, when we were talking, she recounted the details of my birth.  Then she looked me straight in my eyes and said, “Be you.”

Palm Grove established by Evelyn Messer James at Estate La Grange.

On September 17, 2017, in the fierce winds of Hurricane Maria, the age-old palm at the entrance of La Grange House fell.  But it left behind a grove filled with hundreds of offspring, thanks to the vision of Evelyn Marie Messer James.

Mommy’s last full meal was a bowl of kallaloo prepared by Laurel. Shortly thereafter, her appetite declined—as if she wanted her last meal in her Earthly existence to be the age-old West African dish. 

Evelyn Messer James at age 80.

Shortly thereafter, Mommy began her decline…. I asked that the priest be called to administer The Last Sacrament, and Jennifer went immediately to St. Patrick’s to request the priest. My dear godsister, Jeanie Duval, notified the priest of Jennifer’s request, and he and Jennifer set off immediately for La Grange.  Once there, the priest administered the last rites.  And within a handful of hours, Mommy, like a whisper in a grove of mighty palms, departed….

May Evelyn Marie Messer James rest in Eternal Peace.   

Wayne James Finds 350 Rare Cuba Photos in Spain

Wayne James Purchases 350 Rare Cuba Photos from European Collector

One of approximately 350 photos of Golden-Age Cuba (189-1925) acquired by Wayne James from a family in Valencia, Spain.

St. Croix-born historian and art collector Wayne James has done it again:  serendipitously acquired a cache of Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., “Cuba Series” photos.  James’ collection of the “Cuba Series” photographs now totals more than 900 century-old images and is believed to be the world’s largest.  The University of Miami’s esteemed Cuban Heritage Collection, widely regarded as one of the foremost repositories of Cuban documents outside Cuba, has only 60 of the images.

“A renowned Spanish auction house, aware of my interest in the ‘Cuba Series,’ contacted me to inform me of the Valencia, Spain, family’s willingness to part with its collection,” James said.  “The Valencia collection is a great find. The most I had ever acquired in a single purchase was a Barcelona collection containing 250 images, back in 2005. On the rare occasions that these priceless photos are offered at auction, they are sold in lots of ones and twos. So, to find 350 is like finding a long-lost treasure on a deserted Caribbean island.”

The photos, issued by the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., cigar company of Havana, Cuba, to its special customers in 1925, were taken between 1890 and 1925 and depict “Golden-Age Cuba”—its breathtakingly beautiful bays, palatial residences and civic buildings, manicured parks, picturesque plantations, formidable fortresses and factories, sacred cathedrals and churches, etc.

Years of extensive scholarship has yielded very little on exactly how many photos comprise the “Cuba Series” and exactly to whom and how the photos were distributed. 

“I have No. 1 of the series, and the largest number in my collection is No. 1669,” James said.  “That leads me to believe that the complete series contains 1700 images. But no one seems to know for certain—not even the membership of the world’s great cartophilic societies. Maybe somewhere—in some cobwebbed attic, or in a dusty trunk, or in the secret compartment of a gentleman’s mahogany secretary—there is a complete set of the coveted ‘Cuba Series.’ But until that great discovery is realized, I acquire the photos whenever I can. And slowly, but surely, over the past 50 years, I have amassed a collection that is now the envy of the world.”

But James has not kept his collection from the world.  In October of 2009, while visiting Cuba in his capacity of Senator of the United States Virgin Islands, he donated a copy of his collection—then totaling 250 images—to the University of Havana, which, prior to the gift, had no archival knowledge of the existence of the photos.  And in March of 2022, James directed Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba, a 3-part docufilm done in the emerging “quiltography” genre, which showcases more than 500 of the images.

“I was inspired to direct a film sharing the photos with the people of the world by my dear, dear Cuban friend, Luis C. Garcia-Menocal, great-grandson of Mario Garcia-Menocal, Cuba’s third president [1913-1921]. In a conversation with Luis in June of 2019, I was moved by his love and nostalgia for his Cuban homeland, and I decided to honor him by sharing the beauty of bygone Cuba with people all over the world,” James said.

The film, which premiered on March 27, 2022, at the prestigious Musto Cultural Center in Union City, New Jersey, one of America’s foremost enclaves of Cuban-Americans, is available, free of charge, on YouTube.  And on May 10, 2022, Cuba’s Havana Times published a glowing front-page feature story review of the film. And plans are underway to enter the film in the 2023 Cannes, Sundance, and Tribeca film festivals.

“Plans are also underway to publish a large-format, luxurious, coffee-table book featuring the most breathtakingly beautiful of the images,” James said. “And I am actively engaged with several universities and museums regarding serving as the official archive for the actual photos while digital archives are made electronically available to libraries around the world,” James added.

“I was a boy of 11 years when I inherited my family’s nascent collection of approximately 100 of the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., ‘Cuba Series’ photos,” James said. “These endearing photos were sent home—postcard-like—to St. Croix by my maternal great-uncles Alexander and Richard Messer, who both migrated to Cuba in the early years of the 1900s to work as laborers in the island-nation’s sugarcane industry and as musicians. The photos were lovingly and painstakingly safeguarded at the family’s ancestral home in Frederiksted, St. Croix, by their younger brother Alphonso Messer [1896-1973], who passed the photos on to me.  And over the decades, I have added to this photographic legacy. And I am proud to have done my part in the preservation of my family’s history in Cuba and the history of great Cuba in general,” James concluded.

Wayne James Acquires Rare Watercolor by “The Great Gatsby” Cover Artist

Wayne James Acquires Rare Watercolor by Francisco Coradel-Cugat (1893-1981), Painter of the Iconic Cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Circa 1940 watercolor of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas’ Hotel 1829 by Francisco Coradel-Cugat (1893-1981), painter of the iconic cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925)

Art collector and filmmaker Wayne James recently acquired a rare watercolor of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas’ Hotel 1829 by celebrated Spanish artist, Francisco Coradel-Cugat, perhaps best known for his famous painting that became the cover-image of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, The Great Gatsby (1925). Born in Barcelona, Cugat was 12 years old when his father moved the family of six to the Caribbean, residing primarily in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Young Cugat attended an art academy in Havana, where he learned to draw and paint.

Iconic cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, The Great Gatsby (1925) by Spanish artist Francisco Coradel-Cugal (1893-1981)

At age 16, Cugat declared to his family that art would be his profession and was promptly sent off to the French cathedral city of Rheims to live with a maternal aunt in order to study the French language and art. Cugat distinguished himself at school in Rheims, winning the bronze medal before, at age 18, moving to Paris to study at Ecole des Beaux Arts under the tutelage of Cormon.

Art being undoubtedly Cugat’s vocation, travel was arguably his avocation:  He crossed the Atlantic on numerous occasions and cruised between the New World continents, the islands of the Caribbean, and traversed the jungles, mountains, and valleys of Central America.

Regularly exhibited in Spain, Hollywood, and New York in the 1920s, Cugat’s work was well-received by the press. And in July of 1943, his life and art were featured in an article in Esquire Magazine.  Francisco Coradel-Cugat died in Westport, CT, in July of 1981. But his artistic legacy did not.

“A dear friend gave me the Cugat watercolor of Hotel 1829 in celebration of the March 27, 2022, World Premiere of my 3-part Cuba film, Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba,” James said.  “She knows that the hotel is my favorite on St. Thomas, being situated in the heart of historic Charlotte Amalie, and she surprised me with the gift today. Cugat and I have Cuba and Virgin Islands connections, so it is very special to have one of his works as part of my collection.” 

June 7, 1937, Nationaltidende article announcing the Copenhagen, Denmark, arrival onboard the vessel Amerika of Gustav Alexander James (1919-1983)

Wayne James’ fondness for Hotel 1829 reaches back more than a century.  In 1937, when his father, Gustav Alexander James (1919-1983), was en route to Copenhagen, Denmark, to study, he stayed at Hotel 1829 for almost one month awaiting the arrival of the vessel Amerika upon which he sailed to Scandinavia.  And Gustav’s father, Isaac Gateword James (1893-1978), who, 30 years earlier, in 1907, departed St. Croix to further his studies in Denmark, used to stay at Hotel 1829 in the early decades of the 1900s while in St. Thomas on business.  Likewise, Wayne James has over the decades stayed at the hotel during his visits to St. Thomas for carnival and during his tenure as Senator of the United States Virgin Islands.

A 1907 photo taken in Charlottenlund, Denmark, featuring Isaac Gateword James (1893-1978), along with Gustav Alexander Hagemann (1905-2000) and Grete Hagemann (1907-2012)

Hotel 1829 is like my home on St. Thomas.  I always feel as if I belong there in a special, profound way. And having this painting to grace my walls will forever make me feel at home, wherever I am in the world,” James concluded.

Free Links to Wayne James’ 3-Part Film, “Going…Going…Gone: The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba”

Free YouTube Links to Wayne James’ Cuba Film, Going…Going…Gone

Fashion Designer and Former Senator Wayne James’ 3-part film on Cuba, titled, Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba, officially premiered at the prestigious William V. Musto Cultural Center in Union City, New Jersey, on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and is now available, free of charge, on YouTube. 

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 1/3) – YouTube

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 2/3) – YouTube

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 3/3) – YouTube

Enjoy and Share!

Wayne James

Free Links to Wayne James’ “Going…Going…Gone: The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba”

Free YouTube Links to Wayne James’ Cuba Film, Going…Going…Gone

Fashion Designer and Former Senator Wayne James’ 3-part film on Cuba, titled, Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba, officially premiered at the prestigious William V. Musto Cultural Center in Union City, New Jersey, on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and is now available, free of charge, on YouTube. 

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 1/3) – YouTube

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 2/3) – YouTube

The Grandeur of “Golden Age” Cuba (Part 3/3) – YouTube

Enjoy and Share!

Wayne James

Blind and Battling Conviction, Fashion Designer Wayne James Directs Cuba Film

                                                                                                       

Fashion Designer and Former Senator Wayne James Makes Movie while Challenging Conviction and Battling Blindness

Havana, Cuba

Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba, a film by fashion designer and former senator Wayne James, will premiere at Union City, New Jersey’s prestigious Musto Cultural Center on Sunday, March 27, 2022.  The public screening of the three-part docufilm is being officially hosted by Union City’s mayor Brian P. Stack and the city’s Board of Commissioners. Union City is the oldest Cuban enclave in the United States, dating back to the late 1940s, and today boasts one of the nation’s largest urban Cuban populations, second only to Miami.   

The prestigious William V. Musto Cultural Center of Union City, NJ, venue of the World Premiere of Wayne James’ “Going…Going…Gone: The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba

Links to the film will be uploaded onto YouTube immediately after the Union City premiere, and a cocktail reception is being planned for Miami.

“The Union City leadership and community at large have welcomed me and the film with open arms,” James said. “They immediately recognized the film’s timeliness, relevance, and power. I have been treated to a classic display of Cuban hospitality.”

A prototype of the emerging “quiltography” genre—films skillfully and artistically pieced-together, quiltlike, from already-existing footage for the purpose of telling a new story—Going…Going…Gone is a gripping, emotionally charged oeuvre about Cuba’s journey from its late-19th-century title of “The Pearl of the Caribbean,” to Castro-era “Bastion of Communism,” to 21st-century “Battleground for Democracy.”

The film’s raison d’être is the display of James’ exceedingly rare collection of more than 500 self-captioned photos of golden-age Cuba, dating from about 1890-1925, taken by the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., Havana-based cigar company as picture-album keepsakes for the company’s preferred customers. 

Beginning in the mid-1920s, James’ maternal great-uncle, musician and sugarcane laborer Alexander Messer, born on St. Croix in 1888 to Christian Messer (1859-1927) and Andrina Prince Messer (1865-1941), would enclose the photos in his letters home to his parents and siblings on St. Croix. (Alexander migrated to Cuba in 1918 at the age of 29, settling in Santiago de Cuba, after having lived abroad in the Dominican Republic from 1908. Alexander’s younger brother, Richard Messer, born in 1893, migrated to Cuba in 1915 at the age of 21, settling in Camaguey.)  

Not known by the family to be a smoker, and, given his modest status in Cuba, not likely a preferred customer of the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., cigar company, how Alexander came into possession of the picture-cards has been lost to history.  What is known, however, is that Alexander’s younger brother, Alphonso Messer (1896-1973) painstakingly safeguarded the photos at the family’s ancestral home on Hospital Street in the town of Frederiksted from the ravages of time and storm, the nascent collection of approximately 100 photos passing to Wayne James, a schoolboy of 11 years old at the time of the inheritance. 

Over the decades, James has serendipitously augmented the collection by happening upon caches in quaint antique shops and by successfully bidding at international auction houses, his collection of the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., “Cuba Series” now totaling more than 550 images and believed to be the world’s largest. 

Approximately 50 of the images are portraits of Cuban political leaders, born circa 1850 to 1900, many of whom contributed to the Cuba that Fidel Castro overthrew on January 1, 1959. 

“Many Cubans who have seen these portraits have been moved to tears,” James said.  “Many present-day Cubans are the descendants of the once-powerful men depicted in the portraits.  And many of these present-day descendants had never seen photos of their forefathers since many of Cuba’s elite hastily left the country with little more than the clothes on their backs in the wake of the 1959 Revolution. For many Cubans, the emotions are as raw as they were 63 years ago, and they are comforted by finally seeing the faces of their forefathers.”

But there is more to Going…Going…Gone than portraits and breathtakingly beautiful photos of Cuba’s palatial architecture, manicured parks, impressive monuments, panoramic bays and roadways, palm-dotted hillsides, impressive stone churches and cathedrals, and bridges and factories, for example.

The plotline of the film is as much unfolded via photos as via music:  Cuba’s greatest, time-honored compositions—such as “Adios a Cuba,” “La Bella Cubana,” and “Barcarola”—of Cuba’s greatest 19th -century symphonic composers, musicians such as Ignacio Cervantes, Jose White, and Nicholas Espadero, seamlessly connect the elements of the film. And to pull on the heart strings, Director James weaves into the panoramic displays of the still photos live orchestral performances of the tango classics of Argentinean great Astor Piazzolla, performed by Washington, DC’s Pan American Symphony Orchestra (PASO). And, of course, the film is studded with Afro-Cuban spirituals, conga rhythms, and comparsas.

Archival film footage—from silent-era films of Cubans harvesting sugarcane and of carnival revelry; to clips of pre-Revolution glamor; to travel films lauding the island-nation’s modern accomplishments; to grainy original footage of Castro’s rebels in their mountaintop hideouts and his triumphant victory parade in Havana; to network broadcasts of Castro’s stirring speeches and interviews; to broadcasts of the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, the 1994 Massacre at Sea, and the 1999-2000 Elian Gonzalez saga; to public domain YouTube posts of today’s Cubans taking to the streets in New Jersey, Miami, and Havana, demanding Democracy—are pieced-together to recount, with authenticity, the Cuban experience.

“When treating a historical subject of this magnitude, there is no point in trying to ‘re-invent the reel’,“ James said.  “The best footage is the real footage—that taken as these great historical events were unfolding. My role was to locate this archival footage, then piece-it together, quiltlike, to tell the story as I see it. I think I have achieved that objective with Going…Going…Gone.”

Fashion Designer Wayne James in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Alessandro Sonnetti.

And all this—a “tour de force” of sorts, a “magnum opus” in some respects—was accomplished in the few months since James’ release from Federal prison on June 19, 2020, after serving a 30-month sentence—in seven different prisons, foreign and domestic, federal, state, and territorial—for the alleged embezzlement of $78,000 during his 2009-2011 term as Senator of the United States Virgin Islands. James’ Petition to Vacate Conviction, based on 28 USC § 2255 on the grounds of violations of his 6th Amendment Right to effective counsel, his 6th Amendment Right to present witnesses to testify on his behalf, and his 5th Amendment Right to Due Process of Law, is currently being reviewed by the District Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands (Case:  3:15-cr-00042-RAM-RM  Document #:  299 Filed:  02/28/22 ).

Even more remarkable is the fact that James has directed Going…Going…Gone—in addition to launching his Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men and relaunching his signature Wayne James Ltd fashion line at www.WayneJamesLtd.com  while battling blindness caused by the Bureau of Prisons’ neglect of his glaucoma condition during his period of incarceration. 

“I entered federal prison not even needing drugstore readers,” James said. “But I left federal prison blind, deposited by prison personnel at the Pensacola, Florida, Greyhound Bus Station in the dark of night on June 1, 2020, and told to make my way as best I could to the halfway house in Atlanta, Georgia, where I remained until June 19, 2020.

  “But Ray Charles was blind,” James continues. “And Stevie Wonder is blind.  So, Wayne James is not going to let blindness stop him. As long as you are alive, you have to strive to thrive. Fortunately, I didn’t develop myself into a one-trick pony.  God and genetics blessed me with numerous talents, and I have cultivated them over the years.

Going…Going…Gone is simply one of the many things on my plate, a triumphant return to political life included. Plus, I have more books to write, including finishing volume three of my critically acclaimed Manly Manners treatise on modern men’s comportment and lifestyle,” James said. “And, as you can imagine, in that list of books to be written are books about life in federal prison, the first of which will be Culo! Culo! Culo!, a tell-all about life at MDC Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and federal prison in Florida,” James added.

Haute couture model Janice Joyce in a 1990 “little black dress” by fashion designer Wayne James. Photo by Amr Mounib.

Wayne James is no stranger to multi-tasking and artist achievement under adverse circumstances.  In 1987, while in his last semester of law school at Georgetown, he presented his first collection of fashion at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in SoHo, the esteemed Bergdorf Goodman purchasing the exclusive New York rights to that first collection, and the Washington Post lauding his launch.  James went on to graduate two months later and within two years was declared “one of the rising stars among young New York designers” by celebrated fashion editor Nina Hyde. 

What would become Going…Going…Gone started out as a simple conversation between two dear, dear friends.  Cuban-born Luis C. Garcia-Menocal, great-grandson of Cuba’s third president, Mario Garcia-Menocal (1913-1921), and James were sitting, talking about their mutual love for Cuba when James informed Garcia-Menocal of his rare collection of golden-age Cuba photos.

“Cubans would love to see those photos,” Garcia-Menocal said.  “Cuba is a great island.  And people need to see what the island looked like before the revolution.”

“Luis’ nostalgia for Cuba was palpable,” James recalls.  “I decided then and there to share the photos with him, Cubans, and the world. It started out as an exhibition accompanied by a coffee table book and organically morphed into a three-part, six-hour film.  Love is a powerful thing.  It brings out the best in us if we follow its lead,” James concluded.

Lloyd “Dove” Braffith–The Crucian Painter

Dove—A Crucian Painter

Dove’s “Overview of Frederiksted” Private Collection of Wayne James

[Written by St. Croix-born historian Wayne James in 2002, this article was published in the St. Croix Avis in 2002; included in the Dove Exhibition catalog in conjunction with the 2003 St. Croix Foundation-sponsored Dove Retrospective; and re-printed in 2012 in the St. Croix Avis in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Dove’s death. The article is re-published herein in recognition of the 82nd anniversary of his birth and the upcoming 20th anniversary of his death. In the 2012 St. Croix Landmarks Society Auction, Dove’s painting, “Under the Christmas Lights,” { Lot No. 136; 48″ X 36″} sold for $17,000.]

At Dove’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on the morning of Friday, November 15, 2002, there were, surprisingly, only about 100 mourners. The local intelligentsia were in absentia, the politicians were not present, and the media were missing. His east end clients did not venture west for the service.  Some people said that the four-day interval between the death and the funeral (as opposed to the now-customary seven or eight) was insufficient time for them to prepare.  Others said that they simply had not heard of the painter’s death until after the funeral.  Who were there, however, were his family members, representatives of some of Frederiksted’s oldest families—Brady, Harrison, Belardo, Lucas, Messer, McIntosh, Christian, Henderson, Joseph, Petersen, Milligan, James, Thomas, Prince, Thompson, Wilson—and a handful of artist-friends. Street-artist A. J. Simmonds, cousin to renowned local painter El’Roy Simmonds, was there in a fuchsia shirt in tribute to Dove’s penchant for bold tones. Neo-Impressionist painter Leo Carty, whose canvases are coveted by some of the island’s most discriminating collectors, was there. Photographer-Historian Robert Vaughn was there. Crucian poet Richard Schraeder, Sr., who just two months later would celebrate Dove’s genius in his poem commissioned for the Turnbull-Richards inauguration, was there.  Longtime Dove admirers Angeline Henry and Sybil Francis Joshua made their way down from Christiansted for the service.  Educator Audrey Clendinen Abbot was there. Mary Abbot, who has collected several Doves over the years, said it was her honor to be there.

In his coffin Dove looked ten years younger than he had during his final days on the corner of Company and Market Streets in Christiansted—he looked satisfied and at peace.  Placed with him were some of his prized possessions:  a few half-empty tubes of acrylic paint; his palette, dabbed with seemingly countless hues of the Caribbean; and in his pigment-stained right hand, with its long, tapered fingers, he held three sable brushes.  Dove was the consummate artist to the very end.

In the Virgin Island during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its aftermath, Black people, regardless of their God-given talents and gifts, were, for the most part, relegated to a life of hard labor in sugarcane fields.  Consequently, people who—had they been permitted to fully participate in society—might have written great works of literature, contributed to cures of mankind’s most debilitating diseases, set and broken athletic records, and delivered spiritually uplifting sermons, for example, went to their graves unfulfilled. But while slave societies did not offer many opportunities for Black people in general, they did provide some alternative outlets for the artistically inclined enslaved population through the practical and performing arts. Creative personalities who under normal circumstances might have developed into fine-art sculptors and painters and poets, for example, were placed in or instinctively gravitated towards the only arts that were available to them—arts such as cooking, sewing, cabinet-making, jewelry-making, and folk music. It is in this historical context and its legacy, then, that Dove’s genius as the first Crucian painter must be understood and celebrated. 

Lloyd “Dove” Braffith’s “Quadrille Dance at Cumberland Castle” Private Collection of Wayne James.

Baptized Lloyd Alphonso Braffith [believed to be a corruption of Brathwaite], Dove was born on February 26, 1940, in “Bailey Yard,” located on Prince Street in Frederiksted, between the Catholic convent and the old Danish Grammar School.  Artistic talent expressed through folk music was in his bloodline. His mother’s father, Charles Harris, was a tinsmith but also an expert scratchband flautist on the side.  His maternal uncle, Willie Harris, was a master flautist, and Ira Samuel and David Heyliger, Dove’s brothers, are locally renown musicians. As for Dove, he sang calypso with the Vibratones, a local band during his early twenties.

But Dove had exhibited an interest in painting from his school days. At St. Patrick’s School, where he studied until the sixth grade; then at the Frederiksted Junior High, located in what is today the Athalie McFarlane Petersen Library; and, finally, during his two-and-one-half years of high school at the Christiansted High School, Dove’s talent as a painter was evident.

“When Dove was at C.H.S., I used to work in the office,” said his brother, Ira Samuel.  “I remember one day when his teacher, Phillip Gerard, came into the office, all excited, with a sheet of paper in his hand.  ‘Miss Christian, Miss Christian,’ he said, speaking to Mrs. Elena Christian, ‘Look at this drawing!’ Mrs. Christian took one look at the pencil-drawing and said:  ‘That’s John David Brady!’

Dove’s “Victoria House” Private Collection of Wayne James.

“My brother Dove never took art lessons,” continued Samuel, “but he could draw anybody, and you would recognize the person whom he had drawn. He had a gift. He never studied art. That day, I told Mrs. Christian:  ‘That’s my brother!’ I was so proud of him that day.”

“I could draw and paint from a small boy in school,” Dove said, in his deliberate, almost-reticent manner. “My teachers, from the nuns at St. Patrick’s to the teachers in public school, always used to talk about my talent. Then one day, when I was on my way back home from Christiansted High School, I stopped off at Schade’s Drug Store—the old Apothecary Hall on the corner in Frederiksted—and bought a watercolor paint set. It was displayed in the window.  I went straight home and painted Lana Turner from a picture of her that I used to keep.”  He paused for a while, as if amazed at himself for speaking so openly, this being, according to him, the first [and only] interview he had ever granted. Then he continued. “That was really the first thing I painted outside of school. I also had pencil-drawings of Elizabeth Taylor and some of the other movie stars. I kept those things for a while, but they are all gone now.”  He paused again, then proceeded.  “I am going to tell you everything. People need to know what I have to say.  Life can be short sometimes.”

After dropping out of high school, Dove had to find paying-work.  And he found it in the places where young men from Frederiksted usually found work in the 1950s and ‘60s:  with the Department of Public Works, digging ditches for the town’s sewer lines; and loading and unloading ships for Merwin at the Frederiksted dock.  Dove, ever the artist, sang calypso on the side.

“Dove had a unique voice,” said Elmer James, former bandleader of the 1950s’ and ‘60s’ group Sonora Santa Cruz.  “He used to sing for Vibratones. He sang in an ‘off-ish’ minor key; so, as a musician, you had to catch him just right. His voice was frig-up, but it was good. It was unique.” 

For many Frederiksteders old enough to vividly recall the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Dove was the town’s strongman.  He was very tall, very muscular, and very friendly.  And children admired him. But it was the day that Dove decided to put down his barbells and pick up his paintbrushes that he made his strongest impact on Frederiksted and on St. Croix. 

“I was in a yard on Prince Street—the yard across from Peter Christian,” Dove said, “when a white lady that I used to call ‘Miss Morning Glory’ saw me lifting weights and asked me if I could paint a sign for her. I guess she had heard that I could paint. Or maybe I had told her. Anyway, she wanted the sign painted in oil paint, and it was to have some pictures on it. That was my first painting-job.”

“The first time I saw Dove, he was painting a sign under the gallery of what is now the Virgin Islands Community Bank, on the corner of Strand and Market Streets in Frederiksted,” said his ex-wife Sherill Jackson Richardson. “That must have been some time in the late ‘50s because we got married in 1961.  In those days, he used to supplement his income by painting decorations on cars and bikes.” 

The young couple lived in the Pond Bush neighborhood of Frederiksted, during which period their first two children, Eugenie and Earl, were born.  By 1964, when the couple’s third and last child together, Elvena, was born, the family was living in Marley Homes.  But by 1965, the marriage had ended in divorce. (Dove never remarried, though several years later he lived with Mae Stapleton and bore a son, Alimayo, with her. Stapleton preceded Dove in death.)

“Durant Tower,” Dove’s “muse.” Private Collection of Wayne James

After the divorce, Dove moved to “New Town,” just outside Frederiksted’s town proper. “I moved there to hibernate and paint,” Dove said. “That was a very stressful period of my life. I didn’t feel like singing calypso anymore, so I left the band. But it was during that time that I really become a painter.”   He smiled, looked down, then continued.  “I decided to paint the inside of the house where I was living. And while doing that, I decided to paint myself floating on a flying carpet on one of the walls.  That is when I really realized that I had talent.”  This time, he did not look down.

Many of the major turning points in Dove’s life involved another person.  Even the manner in which he came to be known across all of St. Croix as “Dove” involved another person.  “I got that name because of Carmen Williams.  I must have been 20 or 21 years old when people started calling me ‘Dove,’” he said. “I had a bicycle that I painted black-and-white, and the bike had a little carry-bag that used to hang from the back of the seat. I had painted a white dove on each side of the bag, and Carmen saw it and named my bike ‘Dove.’ It soon stuck as my nickname.  I kept it because I liked it; it was peaceful.”

Why Dove devoted almost half his life painting the historic buildings of Frederiksted and Christiansted is also largely due to another person:  Orin Arnold. 

“Back in the mid-1970s, when I was still working for Highway Safety, I saw Dove in town [Frederiksted] and asked him to paint Durant’s Castle for me,” said Arnold. “He told me that he couldn’t paint houses—that he only painted signs.  So, I told him that if he could paint a sign, he could paint a house.  So, he agreed.  Months went by. Then one day I saw him, and he said: ‘Arnold, ah have a draft of dih paintin’ fo’ yoh. But ah gon need about thirty dollars to buy dih rest of the supplies to finish it.’ I gave him the money. Some more months went by. Then one day, out of the blue, he showed up with the painting. I asked him:  ‘So, how much ah have fo’ yoh?’ He answered, ‘forty-five dollars.’ Between the deposit and the final payment, I paid seventy-five dollars for the painting.”

Dove never signed the piece with his name.  Instead, he had “stamped” the piece with a unique style that would make his work perhaps the most identifiable of all local artists—so much so that even little children would see one of his paintings and describe it as “a Dove.” 

“Before I painted Durant’s Tower for Orin Arnold,” Dove said, “I used to paint at my house.  People would see me in passing and ask me to paint a sign, or they would come by the house to offer me work.  Some people would bring a photograph and ask me to do a portrait.  But a lot of people thought I was lazy since they didn’t see me working a regular job.  Then when I sat on King Street, across from Durant’s Tower to paint the house for Arnold, everyone saw me in the street and stopped to see what I was doing.  Even little children on their way home from school stopped to see my work and to talk to me.  That is when I realized that painting on the street was good advertising.  And I figured that the best reason to be painting on the street was to be painting the houses in town. That is how I became known for painting buildings.” 

Having established a niche, Dove moved back into Frederiksted proper in order to be closer to his subjects—the wonderful historic building of his beloved town.  And from about 1975-1995, he set up apartment-studios in various buildings in town. He lived on King Street, next door to his muse, Durant’s Tower, until the tower, along with is studio (with several paintings inside) caught afire shortly after Hurricane Hugo; he lived on Hill Street, between Queen and Prince Streets, in an upstairs space in the early ‘90s; then he moved to a long-row, just east of the Ann Heyliger Vegetable Market.  During those years, anyone living in town or passing through could see Dove outside, painting—in the park on the waterfront; on the corner, under the gallery of the supermarket, just south of Cumberland Castle; on the corner of the old Brow Soda Factory. 

Dove’s “Mikey and Suzie” Private Collection of Wayne James.

Those years, especially the years from 1985-95, were also the years of Dove’s best work.  His technique had matured, his colors had become more characteristically bold, his perspective more accurate and informed.  And as a diversion from his favorite architectural subjects, he would paint portraits or historical themes such as Emancipation or Fireburn.  In 1989 he painted Hurricane Hugo with a furious Dove-style sky and coconut trees blowing frantically in the gale.

To see a Dove from his “high period” is to know that he painted straight from his soul to the souls of Crucians.  Each gesture of his subjects, whether “thrashing back” down King Street in a j’ouvert tramp; standing, arms akimbo, on a street corner; the precise—almost signature—placement of a D.P.W. trashcan; or the calico-printed skirts of his old ladies all speak on a level that only a Crucian can fully understand and appreciate.  His style is not “touristy.”  Nor are his subjects contrived or glorified. Nonetheless, tourists adore his work, and his native Caribbean people, naturally, love it.  Whether man, woman, or child, black, or white, people are enthralled by Dove’s work because it is uniquely his and authentically Crucian.  And without ever hiring a publicist or encouraging interviews, without ever having a gallery show, Lloyd Dove Braffith emerged as St. Croix’s premiere artist—of all time.  But what is perhaps even more remarkable are the circumstances under which he earned that distinction. 

When Dove started painting for a living in the 1950s, he had no Crucian role models.  No Crucian, prior to Dove, had ever made his living from painting canvases. And not only did Dove make a living for himself, he also assisted in the financial support of his four children by selling his paintings.  In addition, he always found time to teach his self-taught skills to other artists. For a while in the 1980s, he tutored Wayne “Bully” Petersen (like Dove, a musician-painter) but the two men had a falling-out, which never fully reconciled; Phyllis Branch was a Dove “groupie” for a while in the early ‘90s; and 1980s’ Dove protégé Denley “Sutu” Joseph, who would eventually abandon painting altogether for a life on the streets, credits Dove for much of his technique as a sign-painter and canvas-artist. In the early 1980s, in government-sponsored summer youth programs, Dove also taught painting to children from the island’s public housing communities. 

Some time around 1998, Dove moved to the town of Christiansted, again staking out corner-territory to do his work.  Some Frederiksteders assumed he had relocated for inspiration; others simply felt betrayed. 

Lloyd “Dove” Braffith in photo by Roger Thompson.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Dove had moved to Christiansted,” said one lady.  “I vividly recall actually feeling jealous. It was like, ‘wha’ mo’ they want up deh! Yoh mean to tell me that they want Dove now toh?’ “

“I knew Christiansted well from in my high school days,” Dove said.  “And I also used to come up here when I had to sell paintings to pay my bills and pay child support. Luz James—the father—used to buy plenty of my paintings.  And I also had some white customers.”

Just as in Frederiksted, wherever Dove painted, people gathered—and many of them were street people.

“I got a lot of criticism—even from family members—because I live somewhat of a street life and keep company with street people,” Dove said. “But it is the street people who go to buy food for me while I paint on the corners.  It isn’t like I can just walk off and leave my canvases and paints to go looking for a cookshop to buy a meal.  So, the street people get my food for me; and when I eat, they eat.  That’s the way my mother raised me.  ‘Eat you alone, hungry you alone.’ When you break bread with people, you and they bind to one another.”

There was widespread speculation of Dove’s occasional or habitual use of drugs, evidenced, some said, by his deliberate underpricing of his paintings to encourage quick sales.  Others claimed that he would sell commissioned work to support his lifestyle, then have to start all over from scratch just before or upon the arrival of the client to collect the painting.  Still, others complained that Dove would paint the same subject too often, the critics at least somewhat, overlooking the uniqueness of each of the artist’s pieces and the fact that French Impressionist Claude Monet, for example, painted several “Haystacks,” various “Rouen Cathedrals,” and lots of “Lilly Ponds”—all of which are worth millions of dollars today.  What is for certain, however, is that Dove was generally described as a soft-spoken, peaceful man throughout his life, and he is believed to have sold more paintings in his lifetime than any other local artist—Crucian-born or otherwise. 

Dove attributed much of his self-respect and respect for others to the solid moral instruction he acquired from his mother when he was a boy.  He was the son of Cecelia Harris and Hezekiah Braffith of Frederiksted. 

“I knew that my mother was satisfied with me from the day she stopped calling me ‘Lloydy,’ when I was about 14 years old, and started calling me ‘Mr. Braffith,’”  Dove said.  I consider my mother the greatest woman in the world.  Women, because of the influence over their children, can save the world.   My mother saved me. It was because of her that I avoided trouble throughout my life, and it was because of her that I did not give up on painting.   It is also because of her that I took up an interest in writing.” 

Cecelia Harris died in July of 1981; and by the mid-1980s Dove had started carrying around a black-and-white copybook, filled with his essays on his philosophy on life, much of it based on his early experiences with his mother. Increasingly, he said, he felt the burning desire to be recognized for his writing in addition to his painting.  But he felt that because he had not achieved a high level of conventional education, people were not prepared to accept him as a writer.  It was around that time, perhaps 1985, that Dove, almost defiantly, started signing his paintings with the letters “B/T,” an abbreviation for “Best Teacher.”  Dove felt that “The human brain was created by God to learn through watching, studying, and working with nature. But in our world today, humans go to school and lock themselves in a classroom away from nature, where they learn from information without work.” He felt that as a person who has learned how to paint purely from nature, his learning was a true, uncorrupted learning, which he was qualified to teach. He also felt that in the process of closely observing nature, as he was learning how to paint, he had learned other lessons of life, which he believed he was eminently qualified to teach to others. In one of his essays he writes, “I lived in Frederiksted for many years and never got into problems with anyone. I never made a lot of money, but I have always felt proud of myself—not so much as a great artist only, but as a good teacher.”  

By the time Dove moved to Christiansted in 1998, his health was in significant decline.  Ove the years he had contracted high blood pressure and diabetes, thereby jeopardizing his vision and his body’s ability to heal its wounds.  But he had to continue painting since it was the means by which he earned his living.  The work of this period to those who intimately knew his “high period” was more hurriedly executed and lacked some of his characteristic depth and soul.  But on the rare occasion, Dove would rise to the challenge and paint a piece that could almost parallel his best work.  From underneath the gallery across from Holy Cross Catholic Church on Company Street, Christiansted, he would work each day, pushing his canvases and supplies to and from work in a supermarket cart. And his petit entourage of artist groupies and friends would follow him to and fro.  Then, when that building was marked off for renovation, he moved up Company Street to the corner of Market Street, in the heart of a thriving street community.

It was during his Christiansted period that one of Dove’s east end costumers [Mr. Don Weeden] decided to become his official patron.  The deal was this:  Beginning on February 26, 2002—on Dove’s 62nd birthday—in exchange for food, clothing, medical care, painting-supplies, and payment of his other bills, Dove would paint every day, allowing a representative from the St. Croix Foundation to select his best works for a show to be held the following January or February. The proceeds from the sale of his work at the show would then be put into a fund administered by the St. Croix Foundation to take care of Dove’s needs.

“The patron is one of my clients,” Dove said. “He has bought several of my paintings in the past.  Under our agreement, he takes me shopping for clothes, I get money to buy food, and whenever I need to go to the doctor, or to the hospital, he covers the bill.

“This will be my first show,” Dove said.  “Before, I used to have to sell my paintings every day to live. Now, with this man who is helping me, I can afford to put aside my paintings for an exhibit next year.  I was honored by the legislature under Edgar Iles, and I once received a plaque from an organization headed by Willard John.  Now, I have an exhibit.”

The Foundation was able to collect a few of Dove’s better pieces. But Dove was Dove. And if a person walked up to his corner, took out cash, and offered to pay for a piece on the spot, Dove would sell it and eventually start from scratch on another canvas. It was a hard habit to break—after all, he had done it that way just about every day for thirty years.

On Sunday, November 10, 2002, nine months after entering the agreement with his patron, and a little over a year from the date of his first showing, Dove suffered a massive stroke.  He was rushed to the Juan Luis Hospital.  Some hospital staff, knowing of his earlier marriage to Sherill Jackson Richardson, now a registered nurse at the hospital, informed her of his arrival.  She responded.  His children flew in immediately from off-island.  Dove was pronounced dead the following day.  Almost immediately, a makeshift shrine was established at the corner of Company and Market Streets.  A few people brought flowers and simply laid them there.  Someone wrote on one of the walls of the corner:  “Dove Is Above.”

Then all the rumors started circulating:  that people had broken into his studio and stollen his paintings as soon as he was taken to the hospital; that a mysterious man had made off with his writings. Then there were all the stories of people who had supposedly paid cash deposits for paintings just before his untimely death, or people who were just about to buy their first Dove but did not arrive on time.  Then there was all the talk about how much his paintings would increase in value now that there would be no more Doves ‘flying” off the corners.

Some of that same talk ended up in the church yard on the morning of the funeral.  But for the most part, mourners talked about how shocked they were at the sparse turnout.  

“Whe’ pah all dem senator and t’ing deh?” asked Lithia Brady.  “Yoh mean toh tell me that none ah dem so-called leaders of this ya lan’ couldn’ come down ya to west end to sen’ off Lloydy? ‘Tis a cryin’ shame.  Da wah mek we cyan’ mek it. We ain’ got no respect foh we own.” 

During the service, Dove’s first-born, Eugenie, who is completing her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Florida, described how her father’s face would light up whenever she and her siblings would visit him at one of his painting-sites on their way home from school.  His niece, Hollis McIntosh Silvest, talked about his strength and his kind, gentle manner.  The service was simple and dignified.  Then, without much pomp and circumstance, and devoid of the distractions of social intellectuals, public figures, reporters, and ladies who lunch, Lloyd Alphonso Braffith, arguably one of the most significant Virgin Islanders of the 20th Century, was buried in the Kinshill Cemetery—not in a tomb, but like Jessica Tuteiin Moolenaar, in the raw, natural earth of St. Croix. 

As people left the graveyard, some took solace in the thought that when Dove’s century is summarized, and most of his conventional contemporaries have been relegated to names atop filed-away office memos or to leaves on a family tree, Dove’s name will soar high.  They could sense that it is his name, along with that of painter Albert Daniel of St. Thomas, that will open the chapter on fine arts in the Virgin Islands. And they could sense that when the ancestral townhomes of some of the island’s most celebrated families have all but crumbled into obscurity, it is Dove’s paintings of those very buildings that will enable Crucians to recall the former splendor of St. Croix’s historic towns.  And when young men and women who grew up in Frederiksted and Christiansted leave their homeland in pursuit of careers in the arts, they will know of the commitment that is required to ensure success because they will have learned of true commitment to the arts from Dove. 

“I believe I lived a great life,” Dove said during his interview.  “I did everything to the best of my ability. The truth is that I am your most original artist. Your most original person. Your most original new writer. Your best teacher. All this because I’ve learned the most from God.”

It is clear that Dove recognized his impact on St. Croix.  It is clear that he was satisfied and at peace.   

[One of the provisions of Dove’s agreement with the St. Croix Foundation is for the Foundation to erect a tomb to mark his gravesite.  Per Dove’s request, the tombstone should be surmounted by a dove.  As of the date of this blogpost, Dove’s grave remains unmarked and in danger of being lost to the ravages of weathering or reuse.]

Wayne James’ “Going…Going…Gone: The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba” Set for World Premiere in Union City, New Jersey and Miami, Florida

Cuba Film Directed by Fashion Designer Wayne James to Premiere in Union City, NJ, on March 27, 2022

Wayne James, the St. Croix-born fashion designer, critically acclaimed author of Manly Manners, and former senator, will unveil Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba at the William V. Musto Cultural Center (Musto) in Union City, New Jersey, on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Directed by James and produced by Kiwaun Cumberbatch, the film, already being touted a prototype of the emerging “quiltography” genre, is a masterful “piecing together” of photos, music, and archival film footage for the purpose of revealing a new truth or telling an untold story—the way a quiltmaker uses scraps of old fabric to create a new work of textile art.  

“To experience Going…Going…Gone is to attend a photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery, with a live concert in the Rotunda by Washington, DC’s Pan-American Symphony Orchestra (PASO), while receiving a guided tour by an archivist from the Newseum,” James said.  “The film is at once a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the mind.”   

The cornerstone of the three-part docufilm is James’ exceedingly rare collection of approximately 500 self-captioned photos of golden-age Cuba dating from 1890-1925.  Issued in 1925 by the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., cigar company of Havana as photo-album collectibles for its preferred customers, James’ collection is believed to be the world’s largest, very few of the “Cuba Series” cards having survived the ravages of time. The University of Miami, for example, one of the world’s foremost repositories of Cuban archival material, only has 60 of the images.

James’ collection was begun by his maternal great-uncle, Alexander Messer, who migrated to Cuba from his homeland of St. Croix (former Danish West Indies) in 1918 at the age of 29.  Messer, a musician and sugarcane laborer, would occasionally enclose the photo-album cards in his letters home to his parents and siblings.  Alexander’s younger brother Alphonso, born in 1896, safeguarded the photos for more than a half century.  In 1973, at the age of 11, Wayne James inherited the nascent collection of approximately 100 photos, augmenting it over the decades.  In October of 2009, while visiting Cuba in his capacity of Senator of the United States Virgin Islands, James donated a copy of his collection—at the time encompassing some 250 images—to the University of Havana, which at the time had no archival knowledge of the photos.  

“The century-old photos take the audience on a panoramic journey of Cuba’s beautiful bays and harbors, its formidable colonial fortresses, the island’s seemingly countless palatial residences and civic buildings, its breathtakingly beautiful churches and cathedrals, as well as its great plantations, palm-flanked roads, picturesque parks and monuments, and impressive bridges and factories.

“The photographic record is a testament to 19th-century Cuba’s position as one of the grandest destinations in the New World,” James said.  “Havana’s broad boulevards rival their European counterparts.”

The visual excursion to bygone Cuba is seamlessly stitched together by the moving music of the island-nation’s esteemed 19th-century symphonic composers—Ignacio Cervantes, Jose White, Nicolas Espadero, Manuel Samuell, and Claudio Brindis de Salas—with masterfully interwoven film footage of live, Covid-era concerts by PASO performing some of the tango classics of Argentinian great Astor Piazzolla. And, of course, the film is audibly punctuated with Afro-Cuban conga rhythms and Santeria spirituals. 

To put the photos and music into a socio-historical context, Director James uses archival footage of Cuba’s great events and achievements of the 20th century:  Pre-Castro Cuba travel films; footage of the 1959 Castro-led Revolution; television broadcasts of the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980; gripping videos of the Elian Gonzalez saga; foreign correspondents’ reports of Cuba’s medical, athletic, and dance diplomacy; and the 2021 “Cubans Demanding Democracy” demonstrations, for example. 

“In this age of technology, with platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, there is no need to ‘reinvent the reel’,” James said. “When treating historical subjects, the best information is that which is recorded as the events are unfolding, in real time.  And today, because of social media platforms, much of that archival material is readily accessible.  Why reconstruct in a Hollywood studio, for example, a dramatic struggle for freedom when there is authentic footage of that very struggle, oftentimes recorded by objective bystanders with their mobile devices and uploaded onto social media platforms? Today, the art is the reality. The mission of modern-day historical filmmaking is to skillfully quilt together what is already out there, oftentimes in the public domain,” James said.

Director Wayne James in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Alessandro Sonetti.

Going…Going…Gone, after its March world premieres in Union City and Miami, will be made available to the public free of charge.

“The story of this film is a metaphor for the pursuit of freedom the world over,” James said.  “I was inspired to share my collection of photographs in the form of a film by my dear, dear Cuban friend, Luis C. Garcia-Menocal, great-grandson of Cuba’s third president, Mario Garcia-Menocal.  Luis’ nostalgia for Cuba is palpable, and I knew that my photos would provide solace not only to him, but also to Cubans the world over. This film has the power to ignite change. And the people who need this fillip must be able to receive it free of charge.”

Plans are underway to publish a coffee table book of the photos used in the film.  “It is a rare collection of photographs that should be shared with Cubans of the diaspora and the people of the world,” James concluded.

Wayne James Does It All–With Style!

Wayne James Does It All—With Style!

St. Croix-born fashion designer and former senator Wayne James is, as the saying goes, “Cooking with gas!” And there is nothing on the back-burner:  His sought-after seasonings have been expanded, rebranded, and relaunched as “Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men”; he is directing a film on the Golden Age of Cuba; and he is filing a Rule 2255 against the Federal Public Defender who presented no defense during the August 2018 criminal trial.

5 blends of Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men: all-purpose, salt-free, seafood, vegetarian, and holiday/game.

An iteration or reprise of the two-blend Wayne James’ Carnival Seasoning, which debuted in 1992, was lauded by the Washing Post in 1993 in an article titled “Wayne’s World,” and was sold everywhere from supermarket chains to gift shops to military commissaries, Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men now boasts five all-natural, no-preservatives, kosher-certified blend:  All-Purpose, Salt-Free, Seafood, Vegetarian, and Holiday/Game. And the new brand’s upscale packaging is decidedly and distinctively masculine:  glossy black caps to complement glossy black labels with metallic gold lettering, appearing more like the packaging for chic French colognes, fine  Cuban cigars, or condoms.

“The men’s market is huge but rarely targeted and oftentimes underserved, the presumption being that women do most of the shopping—for everything. But the demographics are rapidly changing, with men, especially because of the convenience of online shopping, packing a huge purchasing-punch. Men account for half of the world’s population and eat half of its food supply.  But very few food products are marketed specifically for men,” James said.  “My seasonings for men are the food-industry equivalent of Just for Men hair dye or Venus razors for women.  You go for a niche. And when the niche is huge, you can corner that huge market.

Marianne Kotubetey and Derek wrapped in white silk dupioni. Photograph by Amr Mounib.

“In addition,” James added, “marketing to men fits well with my overall persona as an influencer of modern men’s lifestyle, which began taking form with the publication of my critically acclaimed Manly Manners books on contemporary male etiquette. There’s no ‘Martha Stewart for Men’ out there.  But there is a need for one. So, I am working on filling that need one product, one concept at a time.”

And responding to modern trend of online shopping, James’ Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men are available exclusively at his online Concepts Store which he launched in July at www.WayneJamesLtd.com 

“Of course, women can use the seasoning!” James responds emphatically. “They’ll love it just as much as men.  It’s the best seasoning in a bottle, bar none.  And women will use it to enhance the flavor of whatever they are cooking too.  And women will purchase it for the men in their lives: brothers, fathers, boyfriends, sons, co-workers.  Based on the early indicators, women are buying the seasonings as gifts for their men. That never was the case before.  The seasoning is now a gift item for Fathers’ Day, birthdays, housewarmings, Christmas, July 4 backyard barbecues, you name it.”

But man does not live by food alone.   James is also in the throes of directing Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba, a 90-minute docufilm based on his private collection of more than 450 rare photos of 1890-1925 Cuba, the photos issued in 1925 by the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., cigar company of Havana, Cuba. 

“The collection was started back in the 1920s when my maternal great-uncle, Alexander Messer, born on St. Croix in 1888 to Andrina Prince Messer [1865-1941] and Christian Messer [1859-1927] migrated to Cuba in 1918 to work as a sugarcane laborer and musician. Messer  would periodically mail home letters containing picture-cards of Cuba to his parents and siblings. Alexander’s younger brother, Alphonso Messer (1896-1973), safeguarded the  photos for a half-century, passing the collection on to me upon his death.  And over the years I have serendipitously added to the collection, my collection now believed to be the world’s largest.  The Cuban Heritage Institute of the University of Miami, for example, one of the world’s foremost repositories of Cuban documents, only has 60 of these photos.  I have more than 450.  And in October of 2009, when I visited Cuba in my capacity of Senator of the United States Virgin Islands, I donated copies of 250 of the photos to the library at the University of Havana, which had no prior archival knowledge of the photos. So, I’ve decided that its time that the images be shared with the world,” James said.

Going…Going…Gone is slated for a December 2021 premier at the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center.  Thereafter, it will be available free of charge on YouTube, Vimeo, etc.  And an eponymously titled book will complement the film.

“I started working on this film back in June of 2020, inspired to take on the project by my dear, dear friend, Luis C. Garcia-Menocal, great-grandson of Mario Garcia-Menocal, Cuba’s third president [1913-1921]. Little did I know that Cuba would become a socio-political hotbed one year later,” James said.  “The timing of the film is at once prophetic and fortuitous.  I look forward to sharing it with the people of Cuba and the world. I hope it will inspire people to preserve the largest pearl of the Caribbean, beautiful Cuba.”

Also simmering—but about to escalate to a rapid boil—is the filing of a Rule 2255, in which James will petition the court to grant him a new trial on the grounds of the ineffectiveness of his defense counsel during his August 13-15, 2018, criminal trial for one count of embezzlement and two counts of wire fraud during his 2009-2011 term in the 28th Legislature.

“What the general public knows is that Wayne James was found guilty and hauled off to prison to serve a 30-month sentence,” James said.  “But what people don’t know is that I received no defense at trial.  My Federal Public Defender, Omodare Jupiter, turned to me in the courtroom after the prosecution had rested its case-in-chief and said that he was not going to present a defense because he didn’t think that the prosecution had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  So, Jupiter called no witnesses, entered no documents into evidence, nothing.  It would be the equivalent of an O.J. Simpson trial where Marcia Clark says that O.J. Simpson is guilty as sin, but Johnny Cochran never comes on to say, ‘If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.’ My Constitutional rights were trampled upon in a trial that was, at best, a travesty of our criminal justice system.  My Federal Public Defender never intended to defend me.  I remain convinced that he was compromised from the very beginning,” James said. “This was a case that took over two years to finally come to trial. But he was frantically scribbling down his closing arguments on a yellow pad in the courtroom during the trial itself.

“The presumption seems to have been,” James said, “that Wayne James—that tall, slender, elegant man—couldn’t do prison, that the ordeal would break him. And that if, by chance, he happened to make it out alive, he’d be no good to himself—a ‘has-been.’ And in no position to right the wrong done to him at trial.

2003 watercolor by New York artist Suzanne Eisler of Wayne James at home at “Victoria House,” Frederiksted, St. Croix.

“But… Surprise!” James exclaimed.  “You see, they don’t know me.  I come from sturdy Crucian stock. I descend from people who survived the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Did they really think I wouldn’t survive prison? Really?  Survival is in my DNA. Give me a break…. So, not only did I survive prison, I thrived there. They, apparently, mistook my finesse for weakness.  Big mistake. They should have asked people who went to school with me.  I know how to take care of myself.

“For me, prison was a ‘lime’ on the Fed’s dime—a much-needed vacation on-the-cheap. A room without a view.  But I am a creative-type; it is my nature to find beauty everywhere, even in the underworld called prison. So, I hosted invitation-only dinner parties and jumpsuit-required cocktail parties. I outlined my upcoming fiction-based-on-fact novel titled Culo! Culo! Culo! in my cell in Puerto Rico. And I came up with a brilliant food franchise idea while doing time in Pensacola. I invented a cooking-gadget that I’ll patent and call a ‘WayLu,’ and I wrote the synopsis of a book I’m writing on the rapidly emerging Bromosexual subculture. I even wrote the script for the pilot episodes of a cooking-program to be called “Manly Meals:  Recipes for the Modern Man.” And in that program, I’ll have a segment on prison cuisine. It’s fascinating what you can create with the stuff they sell you in the prison commissaries.  I call it ‘Mean Cuisine.’

“I’ve been in seven different prisons—foreign, local, state, and federal—on this journey, and I found each one more interesting and intriguing than the next. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. It’s the stuff books are made of. With me on that journey were mafia men, stranglers, ‘Cho-Mo’s’ [prison lingo for “child molesters”], gang-bangers, rapists, ponzi-specialists, pimps and wimps, alpha-males with their transgender females, political leaders, drug-dealers, you name it.  So, to add to my collection of high and mighty friends, I can now truthfully say that I have friends in ‘low’ places.  Yes, the Bureau of Prisons neglected my glaucoma condition, and I am now blind. Thank God I had seen the known world several times over and the world’s greatest works of art before going blind. Ray Charles was blind. And so is Stevie Wonder. So, I’m in good company.

“I did prison the Wayne James way—with style and elegance. So, I am very much here, and I am very much ready to file a 2255 so that justice can finally be served,” James said. “Once you control the keys to your self-esteem, inner peace, and oneness with God, you can never be confined,” James concluded.

Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men is available exclusively at www.WayneJamesLtd.com  .  Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba will premier in Miami in December during Art Basel Miami. And James’ deadline for filing the Rule 2255 is October 4, 2021.

Leather Scarves, Seasonings for Men, and Belts with Buckles of 18K Gold and Sterling Silver: Wayne James is “Ba-aaack!”

A Leather Scarf, Seasonings for Men, and Belts with Solid 18K Gold Buckles: Unique Products Rolling Out at Wayne James Ltd.com

An exquisite, buttery-soft leather scarf that drapes like fabric; a line of seasonings formulated for men; and belts adorned with buckles made of solid 18K gold are just a few of the cutting-edge creations rolling out at  www.waynejamesltd.com , the online Concepts Store of fashion designer Wayne James. 

“The mission of the Wayne James Concepts Store is to offer innovative products directly to consumers:  No middlemen, no department stores, no brokers and distributors.  Just a free-flow of ideas between the designer and the ultimate arbiters of trends—the customers,” James said. 

Fashion Model Cameron Alexander in a Wayne James Leather Scarf. (Sold in exquisite, handcrafted pine box for safe storage.)

Leather has been used for practically every fashion accessory—from hats to shoes and everything in between—but never for scarves. Enter: Wayne James’ urban-chic, 18” X 72”, seamless muffler that is turning heads (and necks) even in the über-creative world of fashion.

And who had ever heard of a seasoning for men? No one—until James unveiled his Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men, a five-blend line of all-natural, kosher-certified dry-rubs created for the modern man.

“Of course, the seasonings aren’t off-limits to women; they’ll love them just as men will.  But men need a quick-fix seasoning that they can just sprinkle onto or into whatever they’re preparing and get instantaneous, chef-like results. Men’s cooking has evolved beyond the backyard barbecue. These blends are crafted to make a meal prepared by a novice taste gourmet,” James said. “Men aren’t getting married to pretty, petite home-ec majors right out of college anymore.  The modern man in the Western World is now getting married in his late 20s/early 30s, and he needs to feed himself until—and then during (and perhaps after)—marriage.”

Newly launched Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men. Available in five blends: All-Purpose, Salt-Free, Seafood, Vegetarian, and Holiday/Game.

Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men comes in five blends:  All-Purpose, Salt-Free, Seafood, Vegetarian, and Holiday/Game. The packaging is decidedly masculine:  black labels and caps, gold lettering—a subliminal nod at men’s products such as razors, liquor, and cigars. The seasonings are available as individual bottles, in exquisite natural pine giftboxes, and by the case of 12, exclusively at www.waynejamesltd.com .  

The belts with 18K gold buckles, made in Copenhagen of fine leather imported from Italy, will be unveiled in 2022.

Italian Leather, 18K Gold, Sterling Silver, and Danish Craftmanship. Sold in Mahogany boxes. Coming Soon!

Wayne James is no stranger to causing ripples in the fashion industry.  In 1987, while in his last semester of law school at Georgetown, his debut collection was reviewed in the Washington Post on March 1st; he showed the collection at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York’s SoHo on March 31st; on April 6th Bergdorf Goodman, arguably America’s most discerning retailer of fashion, bought the New York exclusive to James’ collection; and he received his Juris Doctorate on May 28th.  Within three years of his emergence onto the fashion scene, he was being touted as one of the “rising stars” amongst young New York designers by Washington Post fashion editor Nina Hyde and Kathleen Silvassy of United Press International.

But James’ journey has not always been as smooth as silk. In June of 2016, while in Italy writing Manly Manners, his now-critically acclaimed treatise on modern men’s etiquette and lifestyle, he was arrested by Italian authorities at the request of the United States Government for alleged “fiscal inconsistencies” during his 2009-2011 term as Senator of the United States Virgin Islands. At the August 2018 trial, James’ Federal Public Defender offered no defense on James’ behalf, claiming to James in the courtroom at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case-in-chief that he did not believe that the prosecution had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, thereby necessitating no defense, no calling of witnesses, no presentation of evidence.

“I remain convinced that my Federal Public Defender, an employee of the Federal Government, was compromised.  And I intend to file a Rule 2255 (Ineffective Counsel) by the October 1, 2021 deadline,” James said.  “Even Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer, received a defense.  I, however, received none. Talk about injustice.”

James served 30 months in Federal prison and was released, ironically, on Juneteenth 2020. But he lost most of his eyesight while in Federal custody. He will request a new trial as part of the Rule 2255 filing and is filing a law suit against the Bureau of Prisons for neglect of his glaucoma condition, causing his loss of vision.  

In the meantime, Wayne James is doing what Wayne James does best:  creating beautiful things, inventing useful things, and re-inventing himself.  Besides launching his online Wayne James Concepts Store less than one year after his release from prison, James has agreed to lend his collect of over 400 historic photos (ca. 1890-1925) of Cuba for a projection-art exhibition that will open in Miami, Florida, in December to coincide with Art Basel Miami 2021. He is also frantically finishing volume three of Manly Manners. Plus, he is penning an academic paper entitled “Mathilda McBean:  The Last Queen,” which chronicles the life of the heroine known for her leading role in the 1878 “Fireburn” labor insurrection on St. Croix. And he is making plans to divide his time between Little Havana and Old San Juan in order to write Culo! Culo! Culo!, a fiction-based-on-fact, tell-all book about life in federal prison in Florida and Puerto Rico.

“The world is bountiful, and life is beautiful. When we surmount the obstacles along the road of life, we get a clearer view of our destination. There are silver linings everywhere,” James concluded.