Anyone who tuned into Mario Moorhead’s radio show over the years or heard him speak in public will recognize his iconic greeting to his fellow Virgin Islanders. For years and years, from 1 to 5 p.m. six days a week, Moorhead manned the microphone at Reef Broadcasting. Taking calls from listeners, lecturing on V.I. history, letting people know about upcoming events, reporting breaking news, rumors of scandals or what have you, Moorhead was a familiar voice and a fixture of people’s lives.
Although he retired from radio in 2018, he is still an active figure in the community and a fierce advocate of the native-born Virgin Islanders who are his “beloved.”
He has been deeply entrenched in V.I. politics and society forever, playing a major role in Emancipation and Fireburn celebrations, speaking his mind on issues large and small, from the state of the territory’s hospitals to the risks of changing policies on marijuana. The rights and best interests of native-born islanders has long been top among his concerns.
Born Nov. 30, 1939, in Frederiksted to Alexander Moorhead and Esther Virginia Brow, Mario Castillo Moorhead had an old-fashioned upbringing during the height of the career of St. Croix’s labor leader David Hamilton Jackson.
Moorhead’s education began at St. Patrick’s school in Frederiksted and continued through fifth grade. He and his older brother Raymond were later educated in Puerto Rico at the Matienzo Cintron public school and were taught using a Spanish curriculum.
Neither of the boys spoke Spanish, so it was necessary for them to learn a new language if they were going to be successful at school.
“I immersed myself in Spanish comic books to learn the language. In two to three months, I had an uncanny ability to speak and comprehend this new language,” he said.
“Not only was the command of the language necessary for the school curriculum, but it also managed to give me the clout I needed to escape the bullying from my classmates. Starting out with a language different from theirs brought out their childish meanness and led them to inflict abuse,” Moorhead added.
Moorhead attended the Episcopal Boarding School for seventh though 12th grades and graduated with an aptitude for a successful start at a post-secondary learning environment. He was also talented at acting out Greek tragedies – thanks to his mother’s insistence on reading.
According to Moorhead, his mother required reading, saying it was mandatory for him to excel in any capacity of learning. He was smart. He knew he was smart, but he didn’t think reading was as necessary as his mother put it out to be.
“If I would have paid attention to my mother earlier, I would have gotten into studying what I wanted to long before I was in my 20s,” he said.
Moorhead’s father wanted his son to excel in business and finance. Those areas of learning held no interest for the young man, but he enrolled at Inter American University in Puerto Rico and majored in business and economics with a minor in math. He was now following his father’s direction.
Graduate school beckoned, and Moorhead attended the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. and was told by his professor, “there is a lack of seriousness of purpose in you.” He left Howard and came home to St. Croix.
In his youth, he had some trouble with the law. But he overcame that to be a model and active citizen for the past 50 years.
Moorhead was instrumental in creating and developing the United Caribbean Association in 1970. The organization celebrates the contributions of Virgin Islands forefathers and present day leaders.
A 1971 New York Times article quotes Moorhead saying the UCA’s goal is “Unification of all black people of the Caribbean … remove all forms of oppression and exploitation from the Caribbean … create an atmosphere in which we as black people can live in harmony and complement each other rather than compete with each other.”
Today, UCA has an establishment adjacent to Buddhoe Park that continues to serve as a meeting place and a venue for historical activities and celebrations, as well as being home to a vegan restaurant with a Rastafarian esthetic.
Asked recently what he sees in the future for the education of children in the Virgin Islands, Moorhead answered: “There is a desperate need for a change in our leadership. If we can produce the leadership in the environment we have, we have some latitude,” he said. “We are not a minority like a population in a big city. The federal government will still fund education as long as you keep to the core curriculum that they want, but they don’t prevent you from adding to it.”
“Why couldn’t we have a longer school day – a longer school year. Our children need to put more time into learning. They are special and they need special education. They are trained to be good, loyal and peaceful, to supply the labor power for the machine.”
Moorhead taught math at St. Croix Central High School for nine months, 1969-1970.
“I was kicked out and arrested and charged with inciting the students to riot on campus,” he said. “I was teaching my students the importance of knowing themselves and of thinking for themselves. Our children are ravenously hungry to learn about themselves – they are like orphans with no knowledge of who they are,” Moorhead said.
Asked which leader would make a difference in the territory, he answered “David Hamilton Jackson. He was considered one of the founding fathers of the Virgin Islands of the U.S. and was instrumental in gaining support for the transfer of the islands.”
“I was six or seven years old when I was exposed to the brilliance of this man and what he did for our people. … As editor of the Herald, Jackson used it to educate the laboring class, giving them a voice to expose corruption. Jackson spent three months in Denmark challenging censorship on publications in the islands. And returned home and published the first free press on St. Croix,” he said, adding “it was many years later when I realized the full impact of who he was.”
Moorhead’s maternal grandfather Christian Raymond Theodore Brow knew Jackson and spoke to his grandson about the strength and intelligence of the man and how these assets furthered the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands.
“As young as I was, my grandfather engaged me in conversations about our people and why the labor revolt was so necessary. The powers-to-be needed our labor. We should have a right as to how our labor should be used. All we had was our labor. For a very long time I didn’t understand that, but I do now,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead’s formal and familial educational immersion produced the landscape for the young man to grow and thrive in his ability to think critically. He could trust his own thinking and not what the worldview told him what he ought to accept and immobilize him as his own person.
Always reading and researching to learn more about himself and his own humanity, Moorhead turned to the writings of authors and historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop, the Senegalese author of “The African Origin of Civilization” and many other eye-opening books that young Moorhead devoured and continues to read and reread.
Diop opposed what he saw as bias against African contribution to civilization and was an avid, influential proponent of scholarship stating that African history is the foundation of world history.
“We as black people have been convinced that we don’t amount to anything and we begin to believe it and then try to assimilate to the system we live under,” Moorhead said. “I get in a lot of trouble stating my case that we are all alike as human beings but as people we are different. I like seasoned food, while someone else might like his or her food bland. Another person might like Shakespeare, but I like Richard Wright – he speaks to my humanity.”
Moorhead is an avid reader of author Richard Wright, who wrote novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction, including the international best-sellers “Native Son” and “Black Boy.” His literature covers racial themes, especially related to the plight of African Americans during the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, who suffered discrimination and violence in the South and the North.
“I have developed my own way of life and I discuss it in my book. My latest book ‘Us’ is going through a rewrite of the last chapter. My very dedicated editor Kenrick Vidale and I agreed that it needed another writing.”
“Us” will be available for reading within the next several months.
“The theme is about our people. It’s running close to 1,000 pages. That’s a lot of pages. My work should prove to be readable. Maybe the next generation might find it useful. Maybe my grandchildren will read it,” he said.
Moorhead has spoken many times at Emancipation and Fireburn programs in Frederiksted, commemorating the 1848 rebellion that led to the freeing of enslaved persons in the USVI and the 1878 labor revolt that ended near serf-like servitude among nominally free plantation workers. He would lecture at length, in accurate and sharp detail about the historical conditions of the Virgin Islands people. And on several occasions he brought in Nation of Islam leader Rev. Louis Farrakhan to speak, not without controversy.
This year, Moorhead was a fierce advocate of a recent reapportionment ballot initiative.
“The purpose of the reapportionment is to make our elected officials more accountable to constituents. The addition of six at-large senators is a return to the original checks and balances that were a part of the original 1954 Organic Act,” he said.
The initiative did not pass.
“All of my adult life I have been swimming against the current,” Moorhead said. “The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve realized I am not in the same stream of consciousness as the status quo. We always end up clashing.”
During the time my program Free Speech was broadcast from St. Croix, I found Mario to be a most honorable man, dedicated broadcaster, and friend. Mario supported me when times were tough and stood by when friends of his turned their backs. Friends like that are more valuable than gold. I’m sorry that his radio voice has been silenced but his message will always resonate in the islands that he loves more than life itself.
Mario has contributed much on radio and through his books to his vision of the ‘way forward’ for people in the region who hail from the Caribbean in general. The matter of slavery and emancipation from it has been a matter of concern for him and that (slavery & emancipation from it) is really something that all of us as Caribbean and African people should really try to take the time to ‘feel the vibes’ as it were, and in the process to sincerely begin to understand what took place during slavery, why it took place and where we stand today on the matter. Of course we must also include the slave masters in the discussions and the surrendering processes that would be involved as we seek ways and means of handling reparations and similar matters that must be designed in order to balance out the issue as a whole!