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Resources for Black History Month

Victoria Pennell

In December of 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month. This is a time to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians which have allowed Canada to become the multicultural and diverse nation it is today. It is also a time to learn about the experiences of Blacks in Canadian society.

Below are some resources which have been reviewed in various issues of Resource Links which may be helpful in your celebration of Black History Month.

BELL, William Bell
Doubleday Canada, 2001. 210p. Gr. 7-9. 0-385-65829-X. Pbk. $16.95

As Garnet Havelock struggles with his last year in high school, he has a car accident near an abandoned church where he hears strange voices and thinks he sees figures. As the visions intensify he hears a woman crying out for help and the voices of men who seem to be in pursuit. Along with his girlfriend, Raphaella, who claims to be psychic, they start to investigate and soon find that the ghostly voice is that of a black woman, Hannah, who was pursued terrified through the woods by a gang of men. During the course of the story Garnet and Raphaella learn quite a lot about the history of black Orillia, the blacks who settled there and how they were treated by the white settlers.

Black Soul (Aime Noir/Black Soul)
Film by Martine Chartrand. National Film Board of Canada, 2001. VHS. 9 min. 47 sec. Gr. 3-7. C 0000119. $29.95

The video begins when a young black child who is being picked on talks to his grandmother about his problems. The boy represents the way some young blacks see themselves, as unrooted to any cultural tradition or with no sense of pride in their own cultural history. To dispel the youngster of these notions the grandmother starts to relate the history of black people. We see the hunter-gatherers in Africa painting on cave walls, we see the Egyptian pyramids, and so on. We are quickly whisked across the centuries to reveal black history, some of it not at all nice. We see the slave trade gathering manpower in Africa, we see a slave market, and we see blacks working in the cotton fields of the south. The slaves resist. Some revolt and fight but they are hanged, others escape using the Underground Railroad to Canada. We see the struggle for Civil Rights and Martin Luther King and the video ends with some of the achievements of prominent blacks. Bolstered by this pep talk the young black child goes outside and constructs a snowman in the shape of a black statue from ancient Africa.

Rapid Ray: The Story of Ray Lewis
Tundra Books, 2002. 144p. Illus. Gr. 5-8. 0-88776-612-9. Pbk. $12.95

Ray Lewis was the first Canadian born black man to make the Canadian track and field team. In the 1920's and 1930's, at a time of institutional and personal racism of the worst sort practised by ordinary Canadians, Ray persevered to win Canadian, Commonwealth and Olympic medals, staring down prejudice and changing forever the way black athletes were perceived by white culture. In spite of his success he still suffered from racial prejudice in his personal and working life.

This biography is narrated in the first person as if Ray were telling the story. It was written by John Cooper after much research and many interviews with Ray Lewis himself, who is now 92. In this voice the author provides a great deal of information on the history of the times

Journey to Justice
Director: Roger McTair. Producer: Karen King-Chigbo. National Film Board of Canada, 2000 . VHS. 47min, 8sec. Closed captioned, decoder required. Gr. 9-12. C9100 077. $39.95.

Journey to Justice relates some of the history of Black Canadians struggling to overcome racism and to obtain civil rights in Canada. The video begins with Stanley G. Grizzle, Canada's' first black citizenship judge granting citizenship to new Canadians. The presentation then proceeds to discuss and describe Black Canadian history through documenting the struggle of six people who refused to accept inequality.

Rachel: A Mighty Big Imagining (Our Canadian Girl Series). Penguin Canada, 2001. 1-14-100252-2; Rachel - Book Two: The Maybe House (Our CanadianGirl Series) Penguin Books, 2002. . 0-14331-208-1; Rachel - Book Three: Certificate of Freedom. (Our Canadian Girl Series) Penguin Books, 2003. 0-14-301462-5.
83p. Illus. Gr. 3-6 Pbk. $7.99

These books focus on ten-year-old Rachel and her family who have escaped a life of slavery in South Carolina and have moved to the area of Shelbourne in Nova Scotia where they are anticipating a life of freedom. Things are not, however, as they were led to believe. The land they have been given is barren and there is much intolerance and discrimination in and around the town. These stories follow Rachel and her family as they attempt to make a new life in a "free" country. They will provide an insight into what life was like for these people for a young reading audience.


PERKYNS, Dorothy
Last Days in Africville
Beach Holme, 2003. 110p. Gr. 4-8. 0-88878-446-5. Pbk. $9.95

The story of 12 year-old Selina Palmer in the last days of the small black settlement of Africville located on the Bedford Basin in the north end of Halifax, which until 1970 was home to about 400 black settlers. The book gives insight into the way of life of these people and the eventual demise of their community when the city of Halifax forced them to move and bulldozed the area to make way for industrial development.

SADLIER, Rosemary
The Kids Book of Black Canadian History
Illustrated by Wang Qijun. Kids Can Press, 2003. 56p. Illus. Gr. 4-8. 1-55074-892-0. Hdbk. $19.95

This book provides a broad overview of Black history in Canada from the arrival of the first black slaves in New France up to the present day. Text, accompanied by maps, illustrations, fact boxes, a timeline, and an index focus on blacks who immigrated to Canada from various places and for a variety of reasons over the years and highlight the many contributions they have made to Canadian society.

SCHWARTZ, Virginia Frances
If I Just Had Two Wings
Stoddart Kids, 2001. 221p. Gr. 6-8. 0-7737-3302-7. Hdbk. $19.95

The young slave girl Phoebe picks cotton all day and dreams of flying at night. She hears whispers about an Underground Railroad and about "conductors" who lead slaves to freedom. Her parents, fearful of losing their last child, forbid her to speak of her dreams of freedom or to befriend the outspoken runaway slave Liney. Phoebe's opportunity for flight arises suddenly when she, Liney, and Liney's two young daughters answer a conductor's call. Their journey on the Underground Railroad continues through months of hunger, hardship, treachery, and constant fear. The group, soon joined by another runaway, Jake, is sustained by Phoebe's dreams and Liney's force of will and they finally reach the freedom they have dreamed of for so long.

SHADD, Adrienne, Afua Cooper & Carolyn Smardz Frost
The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!
Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 2002. 104p. Illus. Gr. 7-12. 1-896219-86-1. Pbk. $14.95

Based on research which was done for the experimental theatre show "The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Freedom" at the Royal Ontario Museum, this book gives new insights into the lives of Black people who made Toronto their home after they had immigrated to Canada. It highlights individuals and families who made the escape from the southern states to live as free people in a new land through a blending of text, historical photographs, illustrations, newspaper clippings and biographical profiles. It contains a table of contents, an index, and suggestions for further reading.

SMUCKER, Barbara
Underground to Canada (25th Anniversary Ed.)
Puffin Books, 2003. 142p. Gr. 4-6. 0-14-130686-6. Pbk. $7.99

In this reissue of a Canadian classic, Smucker tells a sensitive story of two young girls who make their way via the Underground Railway from a brutal plantation in Mississippi to "a place called Canada". It also gives a picture of the hardships endured by the blacks in the southern states as they struggled within the bonds of slavery. The details of the book are historically accurate and people like Alexander Milton Ross and Levi Coffin were real people who were involved in helping many slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.


Editor: Victoria Pennell