Mary Desmond, a councillor with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, says it’s great that the government has officially documented the importance of Emancipation Day as people of African descent were finally recognized as human beings and not property.

BOYLSTON: Alicia Clyke, a second year social services student at the NSCC Strait Area Campus, says she is proud of her African heritge, and has learned so much through her mentors Mary Desmond and Catherine Hartling since meeting them through the program.

“For example, emancipation. When I asked, I said ‘Isn’t that when you’re 16 and you think you’re grown so you can move out?’” Clyke said at a flag raising ceremony in Boylston on Aug. 1 to mark the anniversary. “And after a short look of ‘oh my’ I learned that there is another word with a totally different meaning; to be set free from legal, social or political restrictions.”

The teenager explained Emancipation Day is important locally, as its acknowledging Guysborough’s history.

On Aug. 1, Nova Scotians participated in the province’s and country’s first officially acknowledged Emancipation Day, recognizing the anniversary of the abolition of slavery across the British Empire.

African Nova Scotians continue to be resilient, but it’s time, Desmond said, for equity, inclusion and the dissolution of systemic racism.

“Black lives matter, they didn’t in the past but they matter today,” Desmond said. “It is great that the government has officially recognized the importance of Emancipation Day as people of African descent were finally recognized as human beings and not property.”

The Slavery Abolition Act, which took effect on Aug. 1, 1834, legislated the official end of the enslavement of, according to a release from the province, about 800,000 people of African descent throughout the British colonies.

However, slavery unofficially continued in numerous colonies beyond this date, and the ripple effects oare still felt to this very day.

Lloyd Hines, the Liberal candidate for Guysborough-Tracadie, said past justifications against the granting of clear titles to properties in Black communities have been nothing close to the truth.

“They have said it was because of a lack of education, that Black people didn’t understand what a deed was, which was essentially a lie,” Hines said, which garnered applause from the approximately 150 people in attendance. “The real truth was Black people were not allowed inside municipal buildings to register their deeds.”

As the former warden for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG), he said one thing he’s very proud of during his time in municipal politics is embodied in Desmond, who is the current councillor for District 2.

“In the early 90’s when we were doing a boundary review, I argued with the public utilities board that we should join together in spirit, Sunnyvale, Lincolnville and Upper Big Tracadie,” Hines said. “And create a seat that would hopefully produce a Black councillor. Mary is the third Black councillor to serve that role.”

The MODG is the only municipality in the province, he said, with such an arrangement that allows for the emergence of a Black councillor, something he thinks is very important to have on council.

On March 24, MPs unanimously voted to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day in the House of Commons, following suit, the Province of Nova Scotia unanimously voted to recognize the day on April 21.

Statistics provided by the province suggest that during the time of enslavement, more than 15 million African women, men and children were victims of the transatlantic slave trade across the world. Here in Nova Scotia, there were about 400 enslaved Black people among the nearly 3,000 residents of Halifax in 1750.

Throughout the month of August, municipalities and communities across the province will hold in-person and virtual Emancipation Day ceremonies, activities and projects, while following strict COVID-19 protocols. Ceremonies began with a virtual launch event on July 28.

“Today is a day of celebration. Looking back at our history it is surprising to some, they ask ‘did this really happen here in Guysborough?’” Desmond said. “Yes it did. Our history can’t be erased, omitted or forgotten, but embraced and acknowledged.”

Photos by Drake Lowthers
At an Emancipation Day ceremony in Boylston on Aug. 1, songwriter Steve Wright played “39 Stripes,” a song he wrote about a local Black loyalist named Sarah Ringwood who was sentenced in 1787 to be whipped 39 times on her naked back at the public whipping post for stealing a pound of butter and some salt.

The MODG’s flag raising ceremony, which took place at the Boylston Post Office, featured a special performance by songwriter Steve Wright and his song “39 Stripes,” which draws from local inspiration.

There are historical records about a free, Black loyalist, named Sarah Ringwood who, in desperate times to feed her three children, stole a pound of butter and some salt from Elias Cook in 1787, and the local court convicted her to receive 39 stripes on her naked back at the public whipping post.

“Today as a descendant of the Black loyalists, I as a Black woman, stand here at this whipping post to tell Sarah, I sit at the table of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough,” Desmond said. “Sarah we have come a long way.”

The flag raising ceremony was followed by a community day at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex (CLC) that had a free barbecue, swimming and numerous activities for children, an outdoor emancipation church service, and a drumming tree presentation. An outdoor emancipation gospel concert is scheduled at the CLC for Aug. 15 at 3 p.m.

While African Nova Scotians still struggle for some of their basic human rights as marginalized people, Desmond said they continue to face police profiling, driving while Black, as well as disparities in health care, education, housing, and employment.

“Yes, we have come a mighty long way,” she said. “But we still have a mighty long way to go.”

Approximately 150 people showed their support to the local African Nova Scotian community at a flag raising ceremony at the Boylston Post Office on Aug. 1, during the province’s inaugural Emancipation Day.