As an African Nova Scotian, two holidays have a significant impact on me – Emancipation Day and Juneteenth. These holidays are intertwined so much that people of African Ancestry on either side of the border can celebrate our ancestor’s freedom from slavery and link our journeys thereafter toward realizing true independence with the elimination of racism, discrimination and oppression. We can’t change history, but collectively, we can change our future.
My ancestors commenced their life in the former British Colonies, now known as Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, as chattel – as any item other than real estate. People were captured and stolen from their homeland, surviving not only the slave castles but the Middle Passage and seasoning camps. There were about 40 slave castles dotting the coast of West Africa from Senegal to Ghana, and they housed thousands and thousands of slaves each year. Enslaved people destined for the new world. I had an up-close experience when I travelled to the Ghanaian Cape Coast, which houses two large slave castles. Cape Coast Castle, which the Obama family visited, and Elmina Castle – often called St. George’s Castle, which I visited in 2011.
During the 177 years in which Elmina Castle served as a Slave Castle, it saw over 5.3 million people passing through its door of no return destined to the Americas. A door I personally stood and wept thinking about my ancestors who survived living in these barbaric conditions. In castles like this one, they began their horrific journey to the Americas.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade commenced in 1526 with the first shipload of enslaved Africans crossing the Atlantic Ocean and landing in Brazil. However, the slave trade would not officially end until 1870, when Portugal officially shut down the last trade route of the Transatlantic Slave Trade with its final ship docking in Brazil.
Understanding the Slave Trade is critical as one dives into the discussion on the challenges Blacks, Aboriginals and racialized people faced and continue to face simply due to the colour of their skin. The abolition of slavery economics, and education, became key factors in how Blacks were treated in Canada and the United States. From 1784 until August 1, 1834, Blacks living in Canada experienced restrictions in their movement, where they could live, work, and how they engaged publicly. With the abolishment of slavery on August 1, 1834, British North America established more and more laws limiting the scope of the following rights and privileges of People of African Ancestry to education; marriage laws; housing and home ownership; employment and trade unions membership; military service; transportation restrictions; immigration laws; curfews; banking; public engagement and separate public spaces. Canada became the land of freedom for approximately 40,000 Black Americans seeking freedom after August 1, 1834, via the Underground Railroad. Their freedom in Canada would come with increased discrimination and systemic oppression. It grew over the next 130 years, causing some to return to the US.
South of the border in the United States (US), the US Congress outlawed the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1808, thus forcing the domestic slave trade to flourish in the South, whereby the number of slaves living there tripled. Slave owners in the South passed laws regulating slavery and the slave trade. These laws were designed to protect their financial investment.
At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, giving freedom to all African American people. It would take another year and a half for all African Americans to be given their freedom. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston Bay, Texas, it was announced that the enslaved black people living in the state of Texas were free by executive decree. This day became known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed black people in Texas, marking the end of slavery for people of African descent in continental North America.
Like Canada, Jim Crow Laws brought forth restrictions for Black Americans. Local and state laws detailing when, where and how formerly enslaved people could work came into place. Soon enough, matters like how they got paid, voted, decided to live and travel was impacted. Even the seizure of children for labour purposes became normalized.
For over 100 years, agencies and programs dedicated to helping America’s minorities gain access to wealth and ownership have existed with no success. With the passing of the Civil Rights Act, President Nixon also signed executive orders that would drive opportunities for African American businesses. Supplier Diversity Programs and the Philadelphia Plan require that the bidding processes be open to incorporate Black-owned businesses, which have driven the success of black-owned businesses in the US for over 55 years. Canada still lags to drive success for diverse-owned businesses.
The impact of slavery has been horrific for African Canadians and African Americans. Our ancestors did not choose Canada or the US as the land of freedom. We were captured and sold as commodities, enslaved for over two centuries and then imprisoned by laws and legislation that encumbered us from thriving as a people. Living in a society where institutional racism and oppression is not seen as an issue, continues to hamper minority-owned business from thriving in today’s economy.
Government, corporations and businesses of all sizes can effect change. Global programs that work can be incorporated to address the inequities in our business landscape. By not addressing the issue head-on, systemic racism, discrimination and oppression in society will continue to be the legacy of slavery. Canadian and American Blacks, who were given their freedom in 1834 and 1865, respectively, are still living in bondage economically.
As an African Nova Scotian, Emancipation Day and Juneteenth keep me focused on our continued quest for freedom, especially our economic freedom.
Contribution Submitted by
Cynthia Dorrington, CPA, CMA
Vale & Associates