Since 1925, as part of its determination to preserve the history of the thousands of persons of African descent who migrated from the United States to Canada during the nineteenth century, the community of North Buxton has gathered for a period of commemoration and celebration. In In 1998, the community added an Annual US/Canadian Genealogy Conference as part of the celebrations (which traditionally take place on the Labour Day weekend); that conference has attracted historians, writers, storytellers, and lecturers who have added their voices to the narratives concerning persons of African descent in North America. Among the individual and groups who have supported this community-based, -focused, and –driven conference over the years have been persons associated with the Harriet Tubman Institute.
By 2009, as the conference became more and more successful, it became clear that it was becoming a strain on the committee that plans and drives the overall Labour Day Celebration. In that year, the Harriet Tubman Institute entered into a more formal form of support for the conference by offering to organize the details of the conference, in collaboration with the Buxton Historical Site and Museum. Since then, persons associated with the SPACE Initiative have been working with members of the Buxton community to ensure the maintenance of this important aspect of the African Canadian scholarly and community calendar.
In 2010, the conference received wide, varied and international support. Among the presenters were Robert Smith (Director Collections and Exhibitions) and Jennifer Duckworth (Underground Railroad Coordinator), both of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan: their presentation “Reaching out to Freedom Initiatives: The Cooperative Underground Railroad Education Partnership and The History of Second Baptist Church of Detroit Project” inspired a great deal of discussion at the conference.
On this occasion of the Buxton conference, one of the other programmes associated with the SPACE Initiative was also showcased. This was one of the times with “Conversations with Harriet Tubman”, presented by Shiemara Hogarth, was featured. As mentioned above, Shiemara used the opportunity to “become” Tubman, to talk about her life and to inspire conversations about the experiences of persons of African descent in the nineteenth century. This was especially appropriate given the traditional focus of the conference.
Also at this conference, there were presentations from two York University students who presented on a students’ panel. Denise Myame’s presentation, “ Sacrifice Must Be Made: A case study of two Ghanaian Women and their Migratory Experience” and John Haraschuk’s presentation “Black Civil Rights Organizations in Canada: A Fight for Equality” both made the point that the history of African Canadian agency and resistance throughout the 20th century have been marked by frustration, adversity and triumph.
Given its long connection with the UNESCO Slave Route Project, the Harriet Tubman Institute used the opportunity of the conference to show and promote the UNESCO sponsored video/dvd, Slave Routes: A Global Vision which presents the diverse histories and heritages stemming from the global tragedy of the slave trade and slavery. Aimed at a general audience, it provides an overview of the massive deportation of African populations to different parts of the world including the Americas, Europe, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and Asia This dvd, which highlights the African presence across continents, the significant contributions of persons in the African Diaspora to the host societies in various fields (arts, religion, knowledge, gastronomy, agriculture, linguistics, etc.) and the racism and discrimination inherited form this tragic past, goes well beyond the trauma of slavery and emphasizes slave resistance and resilience in surviving such a dehumanizing system. It was well received by the conferees at the Buxton conference.
The persons attending the conference in 2010 were also treated to another dvd entitled Forgotten Black Civil War Soldiers and Sailors which was presented by the producer of the project, Jeff O’Den. According to Mr. O’Den:
As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approaches in 2011, “Forgotten Black Civil War Soldiers” − an extraordinary television documentary − currently in postproduction− has captured on tape contributions made by black soldiers & sailors in the Civil War. “Forgotten…” is a true life story about black men in a war that touched the lives of a lot of people. Of the 230,000 black soldiers and sailors in the Civil War, nearly 40,000 died over the course of the war.
This amazing film shows black leaders petitioning President Lincoln to allow blacks to fight in the Civil War. Then, once accepted, they fight with determination to preserve the Union; earn their freedom; and the right to full citizenship in the United States. But, most importantly, they fight to rid the country from the evils of slavery.
The 2010 Buxton Conference also presented an opportunity for persons interested in the African Canadian experience to hear from Debbi Beaver and Myrna Wisdom who were representing the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society, based in Edmonton. These two descendants of African American settlers who migrated to western Canada in the early 20th century highlighted of the results of their oral history project which focuses on the memories and experiences of Black setters in Amber Valley and other places in western Canada.
As is always the case, the Buxton Conference was inspiring for everyone who attended. We hope that SPACE/Tubman will be able to keep this important collaboration going, well into the future.
Click here for the official event announcement.
The Harriet Tubman Institute, through the SPACE Initiative, worked in collaboration with the Buxton National Site and Museum to plan the 14th Annual US/Canadian Genealogy Conference. The conference was held on 2nd September 2011 and featured a number of speakers closely connected with the history of southern Ontario. (Please see the 2010 report above for an outline of the relationship between the Harriet Tubman Institute and the Buxton community).
For 2011, the main speakers were Irene Moore Davis whose presentation on “The Adventures of the Dunn Brothers, Early Elected Officials of African Descent” led the conferees on a fascinating journey of two early African Canadian politicians, who also happen to be her ancestors. Using their lives as windows on the past, the presentation opened up a discussion of the historical political lives of African Canadians, their activism and their legacies in southern Ontario. Natasha Henry presented on “Emancipation Day: A Glimpse into the Social History of African Canadians” which followed the importance of the celebrations of the formal end of enslavement in the British colonies, in several communities across Canada: responding to the context, the presentation focused on the emancipation celebrations in southern Ontario. Adrienne Shadd spoke about “Blacks in Mid- to Late 19th Century Hamilton: Beyond the Underground Railroad”, which examined the lives of African Canadians in southern Ontario whose experiences are often left out of the historical narrative, falling as they do outside of the trope of the UGRR.
One of the innovations that has emerged from the collaboration between SPACE and the Buxton Museum has been the York Students’ Panel at the conference. This year, the presenter was Sheldon Parkes who gave an much-appreciated presentation about the archival work which resulted in his paper, “The Early History of Blacks at the Kingston Penitentiary”.
The keynote delivery on the day was by Kate Clifford Larson who presented on “Catch me if you can”: Facing the challenges of sharing new interpretations and recent historical finds about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad”. Dr. Clifford Larson engaged the gathering with a discussion of the challenges of offering new data or interpretations where an icon like Harriet Tubman is concerned. The question period which followed was both lively and informative.
Once again, the conference was a success; we look forward to this continued collaboration.
Click here for the official event announcement.