Black History in Canada

7 The secret system that helped with the journeys taken by freedom seekers is referred to now as the Underground Railroad: a network of routes, safe houses, and people that aided in the escape of enslaved African Americans, including to Canada and primarily during the mid-19th century. It was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America. Abolitionists came from all backgrounds: free Black people and fellow enslaved persons, white and Indigenous sympathizers, farmers, inhabitants of urban centres, and many others. Together, they helped bring freedom seekers to safety. It is important to note, however, that many abolitionists still held racist beliefs and engaged in discriminatory practices. Both before and after enslavement became illegal across Canada in 1834, racism against the Black community was highly visible and existed at all levels of society and government. Ideas around racial inferiority were used to justify overt racism, and many Black people in Canada were segregated, excluded from, or denied equal access to various opportunities and services. Some white abolitionists even advocated for settlement schemes in places like West Africa. Racial segregation against Black people was different in each province and territory, as well as between communities. Nevertheless, across the colonies, African Canadians resisted oppression and racial discrimination, surmounting the barriers placed before them and helping build the Canada we know today. As a result of the American Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, it was legal in the United States to capture any escaped formerly enslaved person in the northern states and return them to their enslaver in the South, where slavery was still widely practiced. This caused many formerly enslaved persons to seek freedom in Upper Canada, where the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery ensured that any enslaved person became free upon their arrival in the province, and the 1833 Fugitive Offenders Act helped protect these persons from extradition back to the United States. The number of freedom seekers crossing the border increased after the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, further enforcing that country’s 1793 Act at the individual and state level and making it easier for previously enslaved persons to be forced back into enslavement. While 1793 marked the beginning of Canada’s role as a destination for freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad, people enslaved in Upper Canada who were not freed under the Act often sought freedom south of the border in free states like New York and Vermont. Robert Patterson John Anderson Jesse Happy Francis Griffin Simpson Joshua Glover Harriet Tubman Solomon Moseby Anna Maria Weems Ann Maria Jackson Deborah Brown Mrs. Pipkin, Mary (or Louisa) Pipkin Josiah Henson Enerals and Priscilla Griffin Reverend William Troy William “Jerry” Henry William Parker Henry and Mary Bibb Shadrach Minkins Cornelius Sparrow ACTIVITY 3.1 THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD Freedom seekers found refuge and resided in various places in the eastern portion of Canada. There are countless stories of courageous people who made the journey and settled in Canada, but many have been lost to history. The stories we have reflect a wide range of experiences and showcase the many struggles and triumphs of the Black community in Canada. 1. Watch the Underground Railroad Heritage Minute and read the TCE article. 2. Discuss the narrative in the Underground Railroad Heritage Minute, and in what ways it might refute or perpetuate misconceptions and outdated understandings of this period in our history. Consider the role of the white woman, and the way the video ends with an exclamation of “We’s in Canada!” What would you do differently if you were to make this Minute today? 3. In small groups, research an individual from the list below, then create a digital or posterboard presentation showcasing what you’ve found. What do they reveal about the Underground Railroad? What can their story tell us about the conditions and circumstances of Black people in the United States and in Canada at this time? What context does their story provide about the obstacles Black people faced, both individual and systemic? How might their story be representative of other Underground Railroad stories (or why not)? 4. Share your presentation with the class. Henry Bibb (University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library) In 2021, August 1st was declared Emancipation Day in Canada. UNDERGROUND RAILROAD FIGURES