BOYLSTON – “Did this really happen here in Guysborough?”
Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) councillor Mary Desmond said that’s a question we might ask ourselves when we learn of the treatment of Black Loyalists who settled in this area in the late 1700s. That included public lashings for minor infractions while they struggled to survive.
“Yes, it did,” she answered.
Desmond was speaking at the inaugural Emancipation Day event in the district, where she and others took the crowd of more than 100 back in time to when slavery still existed in Nova Scotia, and when minor infractions – like stealing bread to feed starving children – was punished by public lashings on a naked back.
“As marginalized people, we have been resilient,” said Desmond, one of the event organizers and councillor for the African Nova Scotian communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville and Upper Big Tracadie.
African Nova Scotians have been in the Guysborough area for more than 400 years.
She recalled the story of Sarah Ringwood, a free Black woman who was tied to a whipping post at the very spot where Desmond spoke Sunday, 237 years earlier, and received 39 lashes for stealing some butter.
“She was desperate because she and her three children were starving,” said Desmond.
“Today, as a descendent of the Black Loyalists, I, a Black woman, stand here at this whipping post to tell Sarah, ‘Sarah, we have come a long way,’” the councillor said to applause.
Desmond then emphasized the work yet to be done.
“It is time for equity, inclusion and the dissolution of systemic racism,” she said.
In April 2021, the Nova Scotia Legislature introduced legislation to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day in recognition of the history and impacts of slavery in the province. Emancipation Day is the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The British parliament abolished slavery on Aug. 1, 1834, freeing about 800,000 enslaved people of African descent throughout the British colonies.
The outdoor event at the Boylston Post Office included raising of the African Nova Scotian flag, a performance by the African Youth Drummers, singing of the African National Anthem by Joanne Reddick and remarks from community leaders and elected officials.
Catherine Hartling, representative of the Upper Big Tracadie/Lincolnville education committee, noted the lack of African Canadian history in school curriculum across Canada.
“Let’s start working forward and moving forward in all of our communities in Guysborough County and across Canada to make ourselves known and put ourselves in history,” she said. “Let’s write our own history.”
NSCC student Alicia Clyke of Sunnyville, one of the youth organizers, said the event was an exceptional learning experience.
“I am so honoured I got to be part of this day,” she said. “If you want to become an impactful leader, follow some of the best.”
Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines spoke about the provincial government’s Land Titles Initiative, which helps residents in the communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville, North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook/Lake Loon get clear title to their land at no cost. He said Upper Big Tracadie is to be added to that list.
Hines also spoke about district council’s successful effort in the early 1990s to create a council seat for the African Nova Scotia communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville and Upper Big Tracadie. Mary Desmond is the third person to hold that seat.
Warden Vernon Pitts read MODG’s declaration that Aug. 1 each year will be observed as Emancipation Day in the municipality.
The text includes: “We must work together to address anti-Black racism and all forms of racism so all Nova Scotians can prosper, reach their full potential and live as equal citizens.”
Local singer/songwriter Steve Wright performed a song he wrote for the event, called “39 Stripes,” accompanied by Greg and Jessica Favaro.
Benefiting from the warm, sunny weather on Sunday, activities followed that afternoon at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex, including a barbecue, children’s activities, including swimming; an outdoor church service and gospel concert.