News / Halifax

Poster removed from Nova Scotia high school over slavery depiction of black man in chains

The Tri-County Regional School has removed a contest-winning student poster that depicted a black slave in chains from the halls of Shelburne Regional High School.

A community member who saw the artwork found it offensive and a complaint was brought to the attention of the school board.

The board consulted with a curriculum advisor with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, who agreed the artwork should be removed.

“It is important to note the distinction between history, things that happen to a group of people, and heritage which encompasses things like culture, values and achievements,” wrote board superintendent Lisa Doucet in an email to The Coast Guard and community members.

“African people having been enslaved is a part of the history but does not speak to culture they had before enslavement or the culture that African Nova Scotians have been building.”

The poster was removed last week after a meeting of school board officials.

A huge community response, largely against the school board’s decision, has since been expressed on social media after SRHS grade 10 student Andrew Davis shared a post on Facebook about the artwork’s removal.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.  “I was quite upset; our school is big into history …I don’t understand.”

Deborah Hill, who moderates the social media site, said the community’s online response largely indicated that the situation could have been handled differently.

Hill explained that the drawing was originally a reflection of a young artist’s visit to the Black Loyalist Heritage Museum and the artist was asked to show what images she walked away from that day.

“She had incorporated into her design what she had learned that day,” said Hill.

Hill said she understands both sides of the issue though.

Doucet said removing the poster was the correct thing to do.

“As a school system we have the responsibility to make school spaces welcoming and inclusive places,” wrote Doucet.

“It is important to have respect for the feelings and experiences of people of African descent in terms of how they feel when presented with a depiction of a person in chains without context.”

SRHS student, Oshia MacKay, who is of black heritage, was one of those who openly disagreed with the decision.

“Our history isn’t all happy,” she said.  “We can’t look back and pretend it didn’t happen.”

She said she was shocked when the school board made the decision to remove the artwork. She felt this was the first time she has felt school officials were censoring her education.

“They are usually honest and complete,” she said. “The artwork was created for black history …representing what happened.”

The poster, which was chosen as part of a past competition by the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, also included an image of entwined white and black hands and featured a message from Dr. Martin Luther King.

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