'Poetic justice' to hold convention of black American lawyers in Canada: Jesse Jackson

Some 1,500 members of the National Bar Association, a network of largely Black American lawyers and judges, gathered in Toronto Wednesday as part of the group’s 92nd annual convention and first-ever international meeting.

'This meeting takes on huge historic meaning,' Rev. Jackson said in Toronto Wednesday

CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond sits down with Jesse Jackson

4 years ago
Duration 4:44
CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond sits down with Jesse Jackson 4:44

In 1903, just a few scant decades after slavery was abolished in the United States, civil rights activist and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois came to Buffalo, N.Y., to form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

But there was a problem. Du Bois and his delegates were denied accommodations in Buffalo because they were black, leaving them without a place to stay, or so the story goes.

So they crossed the border and held their meetings in Canada.

And it was in Canada, Toronto specifically, that some 1,500 members of the National Bar Association, a network of largely Black American attorneys and judges, gathered Wednesday as part of the group's 92nd annual convention and first-ever international convention.

"This meeting takes on huge historic meaning," Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the Royal York Hotel Wednesday.

The veteran civil rights activist and former presidential candidate sat down with CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond to talk about a new voter suppression commission unveiled Wednesday, Jackson's thoughts on U.S. President Donald Trump's policies and what lessons Canada has to offer our neighbours south of the border.

Here is a snapshot of their conversation:

Q: Why did you choose Toronto to make this important announcement?

A: One, the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest Black bar in the world about 75,000 members of Black lawyers and judges from all over the world, and about 2,000 members in Canada, by the way… It's just poetic justice that it takes place in Canada, the place where we first opened the civil rights movement in 1903. In some sense, in 1903 we were fighting to stop lynching by the rope, now we're fighting here to stop getting shot in the back by police… The struggle is at a higher level but the struggle continues.

Q: Do you think that the political climate that we're in today is worse or even more polarized than it was when you were part of the civil rights movement?

A: You can't say it's more polarized, it's very polarized. It's like if you're trying to swim from London to France. It's not the distance… it's the undercurrent. There's a violent undercurrent to undercut the progress we've made.

The indecency and barbarity of yesteryear, that's gone. I was arrested as a student with seven classmates trying to use a public library. The day that Dr. King gave the speech in Washington, the so-called "I have a dream speech," that day from Texas to Florida to Maryland, we couldn't use the same public toile t… We've overcome that.

We're free but not equal. When it comes to equal justice and equal opportunity, that's where disparity sets in and now you're having Trump attempt to arouse the fears of many whites, unfortunately. [Make America] Great Again is looking backwards. We should be going forward ... All that we've gained in the last 50 years is under attack.

He's bringing to the world a kind of limited nationalism in a time of globalization and that's where your prime minister is so superior in his vision. Your leader speaks of globalization and Trump is speaking of a kind of narrow nationalism that cannot compete in the real world order.