Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Vicky Mochama: Canadian history gives short shrift to Black Canadian history
We are deprived our stories and, as a result, detached from one another.
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At a dinner last year, an American journalist asked me if Canada had any Black newspapers.
At the time, myself and others had been busily gathering a group of Black women writers. Our excitement to connect and commiserate was — and is — palpable. But the question from the American journalist threw me.
At first, I suggested that our landscape was not as rich as America. But I soon walked it back: of course there must be, but I didn’t know where.
The answer has been staring me in the face. A hint is looking at us from the country’s purple-tinted currency. Last Thursday, Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson was the embodiment of pure joy as she held aloft the Canadian ten-dollar bill that now features her sister.
During her life, Viola Desmond also found an advocate in Carrie Best, the founder and editor of The Clarion, a newspaper that began as a Nova Scotia provincial paper in 1946, later going national in 1949 as The Negro Citizen until 1956.
Headlines like, “New Glasgow restaurants persist in ‘Jim Crow’” to “Girl barred by color from nurses training course” informed the Black residents about the racial challenges that their fellow residents faced. It also reported on community events and local speeches from notable figures In American civil rights like A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson.
In addition to the recollections of Robeson and the court record, the Clarion’s reporting is a vivid and essential record of Viola Desmond’s fight and of the breadth of Black Nova Scotian lives in the post-war period.
As for Carrie Best, she became a human rights columnist for the Pictou Advocate and a scholarship now carries her name.
Best’s Clarion was not the only Black newspaper. After escaping from slavery in Kentucky and arriving in what is now Waterloo, Ont., Henry Walton Bibb began publishing the Voice of the Fugitive in 1851. Its mission was clear: “We shall advocate the immediate and unconditional abolition of chattel slavery everywhere, but especially on American soil. We shall also persuade... every oppressed person of color in the United States to settle in Canada...”
The Voice of the Fugitive published for three years until Bibb’s death in 1954.
Where the Voice of the Fugitive promoted the notion of Canada as a safe haven, Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s newspaper, the Provincial Freeman was much more critical and militant in its views. Mary Ann Shadd Cary has the distinction of being North American’s first Black woman publisher.
Canadian history gives short shrift to Black Canadian history. We are deprived our stories and, as a result, detached from one another. Black journalists, editors and publications have been serving communities, advocating for change and speaking truth to power since before Canada was founded.
I’m discovering it for myself, but I know I don’t plan to break with tradition.