On the occasion of Black History Month, we're featuring some new books—non-fiction, an autobiography, a novel, and a biography in linocuts—that underline the richness and diversity of Black history in Canada.
Steal Away Home: One Woman's Epic Flight to Freedom—And Her Long Road Back to the South, by Karolyn Smardz Frost (OUT NOW)
About the book: For readers of The Book of Negroes, Bound for Canaan, House Girl and The Illegal comes the story of a fifteen-year-old escaped slave named Cecelia Reynolds, who slips away to freedom in Canada while her Kentucky owners holiday at Niagara Falls
In this compelling work of narrative non-fiction, Governor General’s Award winner Karolyn Smardz Frost brings Cecelia’s story to life. Cecelia was a teenager when she made her dangerous bid for freedom from the United States, across the Niagara River and into Canada. Escape meant that she would never see her mother or brother again. She would be cut off from the young mistress with whom she grew up, but who also owned her as a slave holder owns the body of a slave. This was a time when people could be property, when a beloved father could be separated from his wife while their children were auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the son of a white master and his black housekeeper could become a slave to his own white half-sister and brother-in-law.
Cecelia found a new life in Toronto’s vibrant African American expatriate community. Her rescuer became her husband, a courageous conductor on the Underground Railroad helping other freedom-seekers reach Canada. Widowed, she braved the Fugitive Slave Law to cross back into the United States, where she again found love, and followed her William into the battlefields of the Civil War. Finally, with a wounded husband and young children in tow, she returned to the Kentucky she had known as a child. But her home had changed: hooded Night Riders roamed the countryside with torches and nooses at the ready. When William disappeared, Cecelia relied on the support and affection of her former mistress—the Southern belle who had owned her as a child.
Only five of the letters between Cecelia and her former mistress, Fanny Thruston Ballard, have survived. They are testament to the great love and the lifelong friendship that existed between these two very different women. Reunited after years apart, the two lived within a few blocks of each other for the rest of Fanny’s life.
Redemption Songs: How Bob Marley's Nova Scotia Songs Light the Way Past Racism, by Jon Tattrie (OUT NOW)
About the book: Redemption Songs tells the extraordinary story of how one of Bob Marley's greatest songs was born in Nova Scotia. It opens with Marley's live acoustic performance of "Redemption Song" at the end of his life, and reveals that the core lyric comes from a speech Marcus Garvey delivered in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1937.
The line "We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" springboards the reader into the book's ambitions. The author explores why Marley so revered Garvey, and, in doing so, looks at the roots of Rastafarianism and ideas about race.
In the Black: My Life, by B. Denham Joly (March)
About the book: In the Black traces B. Denham Jolly’s personal and professional struggle for a place in a country where Black Canadians have faced systematic discrimination. He arrived from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert discrimination, which led him into social activism. The need for a stronger voice for the Black community fuelled Jolly’s 12-year battle to get a licence for a Black-owned radio station in Toronto. At its launch in 2001, Flow 93.5 became the model for urban music stations across the country, helping to launch the careers of artists like Drake.
Jolly chronicles not only his own journey; he tells the story of a generation of activists who worked to reshape the country into a more open and just society. While celebrating these successes, In the Black also measures the distance Canada still has to travel before we reach our stated ideals of equality.
Daddy Hall: A Biography in 80 Linocuts, by Tony Miller (April)
About the book: A striking visual saga in linocuts of the life of John ‘Daddy’ Hall, a man of Mohawk and African-American descent who survived war, capture and slavery to become a pillar of the community in nineteenth-century Owen Sound, Ontario.
Born of a Mohawk father and an escaped-slave mother, John ‘Daddy’ Hall was a product of not one but two oppressed peoples. His gripping story is the stuff of legends—of the War of 1812, of the harsh realities slavery and of triumph in the face of adversity. Over the course of his 117-year life, Hall identified as a freeman, a scout for the British under Chief Tecumseh, a captured slave, an escapee on the Underground Railroad, a town crier in Owen Sound, Ontario, a husband and, as his nickname aptly suggests, father to an impressive number of children.
Owen Sound-based artist Tony Miller’s 80 stark and arresting black-and-white linocuts present an unflinching portrait of a remarkable African-Canadian whose story of resilience and reinvention offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Southwestern Ontario.
Flying Fish in the Great White North: The Autonomous Migration of Black Barbadians, by Christopher Stuart Taylor (OUT NOW)
About the book: Canadians are proud of their multicultural image both at home and abroad. But that image isn’t grounded in historical facts. As recently as the 1960s, the Canadian government enforced discriminatory, anti-Black immigration policies, designed to restrict and prohibit the entry of Black Barbadians and Black West Indians. The Canadian state capitalized on the public’s fear of the “Black unknown” and racist stereotypes to justify their exclusion.
In Flying Fish in the Great White North, Christopher Stuart Taylor utilizes the intersectionality of race, gender and class to challenge the perception that Blacks were simply victims of racist and discriminatory Canadian and international, immigration policies by emphasizing the agency and educational capital of Black Barbadian emigrants during this period. In fact, many Barbadians were middle to upper class and were well educated, and many, particularly women, found autonomous agency and challenged the very Canadian immigration policies designed to exclude them.
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