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February 22, 2008

February is Black History Month

 

This month is Black History Month across Canada.  Toronto's Black History Society successfully petitioned the city of Toronto for the event in 1978.  The originator of the idea in the 1950s was the Canadian Negro Women's Association.  Canada is a multicultural nation which recognizes its many cultural groups. African Canadians have had a remarkably long and arduous road to travel because of their colour and origin.  Many museums, exhibitions, events, books, etc. have supported the recognition some which I have mentioned in other articles.

The Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) 

The OBHS has an excellent website for teachers, parents or individuals interested in current activities.  The Society has offices in Toronto. They are active in Public Education, Oral History, Publications, Research and Leadership.  They have a variety of books for sale including one for children up to age 12.  ( www.blackhistorysociety.ca

A Safe Haven 

The book A Safe Haven: The Story of Black Settlers of Oxford County by Joyce A. Pettigrew is an excellent example of recent black history.  There are several Ontario communities that have extensive black history that is well recorded - Windsor/Amherstburg, Owen Sound, Chatham, Dresden, and St. Catharines.  The blacks of Otterville (near Tillsonburg) in Oxford county are long gone and needed recording and Pettigrew took on the task and with lots of help provided a remarkable book. 

Cover of A Safe Haven: The Story of Black Settlers in Oxford County (2006).

The book besides being an excellent history of black settlers has a history of the black struggle going back primarily to Britain's use and abuse of slaves to provide labour in expanding America.  The book also includes an interesting 74 page genealogy of the original residents. The profiles of famous and successful black residents are also interesting. 

Why the Blacks came to Oxford 

Blacks came to Oxford in three main periods - the 1870s, the 1880s and after the Civil War in the U.S.  The use of slaves goes back to 3000 B.C. when prisoners taken in battle were used by the victors. Boatloads of African blacks were transported and sold.  They were easily acquired from their countrymen and the Christian whites continued to believe that black non Christian beliefs made them lesser beings.  Slaves became one of the most abominable practices the world has ever known. 

One of the great contradictions was the American Revolution to establish freedom for the Americas.  Blacks were used to fight and soon were worse off than before as slavery flourished again.  Over time as abolition began to emerge some indentured blacks were freed, some conscientious owners freed their blacks and of course many ran away. 

Many black loyalists remained loyal to the crown after the American Revolution. In 1783 some 3,000 blacks came to Nova Scotia but were ghettoized and exploited.  In the 1850-60s following the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law made to arrest runaway blacks, some 50,000 came to Canada in the famous "Underground Railway". 

It was a slow process but over time blacks were accepted although many prejudices remained.  Blacks became educated and became professionals and politicians etc and became a part of middle class Canadian life.  There have been male and female members of parliament, Senators, Judges, a Moderator of the United Church, Ontario's first Ombudsman, and Ontario's Lt. Governor etc. and of course Haitian born MichaŽlle Jean our current Governor General.  Locally we are proud of Canada's First Black Mayor, Haitian immigrant Dr. Fermin Monestime of Mattawa. 

2007 was an important year in Black History celebrating Britain's Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.  One of the many related publications in 2007 was the Ontario Historical Society's Spring Edition of Ontario History which was completely focused on a variety of black topics.  (Back issues are available for $15 at 416-226-9011.) 

The Ontario Heritage Foundation's publication Heritage Matters also had a 2007 Special Edition From Slavery to Freedom (Aug 2007). Also check out www.blackhistorycanada.ca

This brief look at black history is just a touch of what is available for those interested.  There are now dozens of books and other materials on line.  Among the many positive changes we should not forget the incredible exploitation of millions of good people in our recent past.

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