Black people in Hamilton need to embrace and accept each other, historian says on Emancipation Day
Things that disconnect Black Canadians are what they can work on to connect with each other, historian says
Members of the Black community need to embrace each other as a way to make and maintain a deeper connection to their past, a historian and longtime Hamilton resident said Monday during an Emancipation Day event.
Evelyn 'Evie' Auchinvole was one of three panelists at an Afro Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) event to mark the day.
"I think from the get-go we have not really totally embraced each other," Auchinvole said.
"For some reason or another, whether it's because this group has come up from the Underground Railroad or this group has come over from England in the immigration, we haven't totally gelled together and accepted each other and had each other's backs.
"So, I think that that is a barrier that each one of us has to get over," she added.
MPs in the House of Commons voted last year to recognize Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day — the day in 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, freeing about 800,000 enslaved people in most British colonies.
During the Monday panel, Auchinvole said the things that disconnect Black Canadians are the things that they can work on to connect with each other.
"That is to really value each other, to value these stories, to value the ordinary things that would happen in our lives, that came to us through Black advice or Black hands," she said.
"I remember Tilly Johnson and her stall at the market, and she did a lot to try and keep her name up there. She had a very famous fight with city hall and her story should never be forgotten. So, those kinds of stories — keeping, recording them, gathering up all of the papers that are connected to them and archiving them so that they're available, so that people can see what it took for her to win her battle against city hall."
It seems to me that the curriculum for the K to 12 level, that it's really critical to have Black educators involved at a decision-making capacity at the school boards and at the ministry level.- Dr. Gary Warner, professor emeritus, McMaster University
Artist and scholar Camille Turner, who was also on the panel, says Black people need to value themselves.
"I think that is one of the most important things that needs to happen, because it's not just for us, it's for the future," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gary Warner, who in the past taught courses at McMaster University on francophone literature and international development, said despite the valuable historical work that has been done by numerous scholars, and the stories that have been preserved by many people and groups, African-Canadian history is not fully integrated into mainstream Canadian history.
"I think that that is something that needs attention at different levels," said Warner, who has been active in the Hamilton community for more than 45 years on issues related to international development, poverty, human rights, immigration and social justice.
"For example, it seems to me that the curriculum for the K to 12 level, that it's really critical to have Black educators involved at a decision-making capacity at the school boards and at the ministry level to be able to influence the curriculum so that Black history is not Black History Month."
Monday's event, held virtually under the theme When The Lion Tell The Story, previewed a documentary being produced by the ACCA chronicling its 43-year history and some of its major achievements over the years.
According to the ACCA, the event was held "to inform the public of the vital role that Black Hamiltonians have played in shaping the community while revealing the truths of a history fraught with violence, racism, hardship, and perseverance."
ACCA president Evelyn Myrie paid homage to the more than 1.8 million Africans who died through the transatlantic slave trade.
"How can we not reflect on those individuals who have fought so vigilantly? They've fought in the Caribbean. They've fought in Haiti. They've fought in Canada. They've fought in the United States for our freedom," she said.
"It is befitting that we take a moment, not only today, but really as we traverse this journey we're on, to remember those people on whose shoulders we stand."
In his Emancipation Day message Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that even though slavery was abolished nearly 200 years ago, its effects continue to live on today.
"The legacy of systemic anti-Black racism is still embedded throughout our society, including in our institutions," he said.
"That's why today, on Emancipation Day, we pay tribute to the countless changemakers who have worked hard to ensure all members of Black communities in Canada can fully participate in society – it's thanks to their perseverance and resolve that we have made real progress toward creating a better future for all."