“Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, Dear Reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the colour pink. Pink is taken as the colour of innocence, the colour of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep. Every time I have sailed the seas, I have had the sense of gliding over the unburied. Some people call the sunset a creation of extraordinary beauty, and proof of God’s existence. But what benevolent force would bewitch the human spirit by choosing pink to light the path of a slave vessel?” The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The History Behind the Novel:
Lawrence Hill’s novel is inspired by an important but little known historical document which recorded descriptions and information on those Black British slave colonists who escaped to the British during the Revolutionary War becoming the first settlement of African-Canadians. Entitled, The Book of Negroes, the document was recorded around 1783 and is the only one which recorded black North Americans in a large, detailed scope of work. Copies of this document can be found at the New York Public Library, the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williams burg (Virginia) and the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. In Canada, copies of the same historical document can be found in the Nova Scotia Public Archives and in the National Archives of Canada. Lawrence Hill wrote a feature article called “Freedom Bound” about the historical document, The Book of Negroes in the February/March 2007 edition of The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine.
Before I begin to talk about this book, I strongly recommend that you take a read of Freedom Bound by Lawrence Hill.
Do you really know your Black History?
Welcome to Black History 101!
If you ask most people, they can tell you that they know a lot about black history, and no doubt they probably do. They are the same people that would be quick to mention names like: Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X and Rosa Parks, all great examples of key people in the black liberation movement in North America. But as Canadians, how often do you hear or read about the Canadian Black Experience? If you are like me, many of you maybe at a loss of words. For some of you, you may be able to mention few examples such as Africville, but that is probably it. It is not often, heck the reality is that even if you googled to try and find information about the Canadian experience, you would come short of any detailed account.
Through our education system, we have been conditioned to think of Black History in the American context and never really in the Canadian experience. Why is that I wonder; just food for thought. We have been taught about the underground rail road and the fact that Canada was the North Star, the go to destination for all that wanted to flee the horrors of slavery. As much as we love to read about how Canada was all so great, the reality is quite the opposite. Lawrence Hill’s book, The Book Of Negroes truly bridges that gap. Though a work of fiction, this book was written on the bases of solid research, meaning that though characters and certain events maybe fictitious, the underlying story is very much based on facts. This book is written as an autobiography of a survivor by the name of Aminata Diallo, and her journey from the coasts of Africa to the end shores of England. On her journey, she passes through British North America (Canada) and exposes many harsh realities of this land and its treatment of migrating slaves. The book truly exposes Canada and its true history.
Without giving away too much of the book, I can only say that this is a must read for anyone who, like me, has been curious to learn more about the Canadian Black Experience.