Magazine article Canadian Speeches

200-Year Quest of Nova Scotia's Blacks

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

200-Year Quest of Nova Scotia's Blacks

Article excerpt

Governor General of Canada

Black people in Nova Scotia struggled more than 200 years for a rightful place in Canadian society. Now they are in the ranks of leadership. Speech on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, September 20.

We are here to celebrate the 20 years of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia. Two decades ago, it was the idea of a few. Now it is an inspiration to the many and a model to the country. Tonight we recognize the Black Cultural Centre as a symbol of identity, of education, and of growth. We will also honor leading citizens, for what they have given to their community.

But as we celebrate the 20 years of this Society, we must also remember the last 200 years and more, when the black people struggled for recognition and their rightful place in society.

Every human being searches for freedom and dignity. That very search brought pioneers from the Old World to the New. But millions of Africans suffered a different history. They came to this continent in slave ships and in chains, to be bought and sold for the benefit of others. And the slaves struggled to escape and to be free. Two centuries ago, Black Loyalists and Black Refugees fled to this area. They even fought for this colony against the Americans, because here they were promised freedom.

After your ancestors came to the Maritimes, another great migration took place, farther to the west. Thousands of slaves broke free, following the Underground Railway to Upper and Lower Canada. They followed the Drinking Gourd, the Big Dipper, because it pointed to the north star. And under that star of Canada, they thought that they would stand as free and equal men and women.

But by the time the migration to central Canada hit its stride, some of the earlier black people in Nova Scotia had already departed. Seeking a better life, they sailed to West Africa, to build Freetown in Sierra Leone.

Why did they leave Nova Scotia? Because when the black people arrived here, they were last on the list for the worst of the land. Children sometimes found the school doors closed. Adults found that jobs were scarce. There was little welcome in the white man's business, or the white man's family.

That first hopeful journey to Canada ended in a disappointment. Yet it was the beginning of a struggle that would last two centuries. All your ancestors fought, in a quiet, endless struggle to survive and to grow. Your churches and your teachers led the way.

Later this evening we will honor men and women, including six Order of Canada recipients, who fought with their words, with their ideas, and with their hearts for social justice.

They opened doors for the present generation; so that today we see the black community producing professionals, police officers, elected representatives, private businesses, and academics. And the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University is the only one of its kind in the country. …

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