Church Examines Its Connection to Africa

Article excerpt

FOR ELIZABETH Cromwell slavery and the racism that fed it is not an academic issue lost in the mists of history.

A Nova Scotia descendant of slaves and former head of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, Ms. Cromwell, who is 62, recalled that the history of black Canadians was invisible and bigotry was common when she went to school.

"There were a few black students in Shelburne (on the southern end of the Nova Scotia peninsula, about 60 km east of Yarmouth). There were mostly white students. The teachers were white. There were things like Little Black Sambo," she said, recalling the story of a boy in the jungle that is now considered racist.

"We were learning about the British and American colonies, but there was no discussion of the slave trade. There was no one who was a famous black person (in the lessons). Many black families have quite a history in Nova Scotia but no one has been interested in knowing it," said Ms. Cromwell in an interview.

This year, as many English-speaking countries and churches are commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, Ms. Cromwell is one of those seeking to shed new light on the stories of people of colour in Canada.

Her Anglican church, Christ Church, Shelburne, founded in 1789, has commissioned a new stained glass window that will reflect the diversity of the congregation. "Our black members felt that nothing in our church reflected the black history of this parish. They said, 'We have stained glass windows that show the reign of Christ and all the faces are white,'" recalled Archdeacon Sandra Fyfe, rector of Christ Church.

On Sunday, March 25, the anniversary of the passage of the law in the British Parliament that ended the slave trade in the colonies (although slavery itself would not be outlawed by Britain until 1833), Christ Church welcomed visitors from the Mothers' Union in Britain and guests from other denominations for a special service.

"We used resources from the Mothers' Union--a service called the 'humble-lifted high,' which talks of the humble being exalted," Ms. Fyfe said. A coat of arms was also unveiled that honoured black men who served with the British Army in the American Revolution.

Although Anglicans were certainly among the slaveholders, Ms. Cromwell noted that "the men who spearheaded (the legislation ending the slave trade) were members of the Anglican faith. It was through the Quakers and men like (parliamentarian) William Wilberforce who every year brought it back to the British Parliament," she said. …