Local school marks African Heritage Month with the #1792Project

By Steve Gow

A Cole Harbour high school is kicking off African Heritage Month by extending a special project aimed at commemorating an overlooked group of Black Loyalists.

On January 15, 1792, 15 ships set sail from Halifax Harbour on their way to Sierra Leone, where nearly 1,200 Black Loyalists were hoping to find a better life in the West African nation than what they were experiencing at the time in Nova Scotia.

During the American Revolutionary War, some 3,500 Black Loyalists took up an offer to join the British Crown in their battle against an insurrection by American Patriots that opposed British rule. In exchange for their dedicated service, the former slaves were promised freedom, land and work.

However, in the years following the American Revolution’s conclusion, those promises were never kept. Instead, Black Loyalists faced such harsh racism and discrimination that it would eventually motivate nearly 80 families to flee Nova Scotia on ships headed for British-controlled Sierra Leone.

“There are young people who don’t know (about it) and here is an opportunity to find out more about the history of the Black Loyalists and find out what happened to those Loyalists who went to Sierra Leone,” says Auburn Drive High School principal Karen Hudson, who helped organize the #1792Project aiming to shine a light on the exodus of the 1,196 Black Loyalists — which, she says, is not taught in schools. 

“There’s no excuses for why we’re not doing more within the school system,” adds Hudson. “And that we’re not celebrating or even documenting this Nova Scotian but Canadian history as well.”

Created in part to mark the 230th anniversary of the exodus, the #1792Project involves the formation of a Book of Letters in which students of all backgrounds are asked to write a letter to one of the historical seafarers exploring the history from today’s perspective. 

The submitted documents can also take the form of artwork or poetry.

“Our goal is to get 1,196 to represent the amount of individuals who got on one of those 15 boats to Sierra Leone,” says Hudson who says the complied Book of Letters will eventually be showcased at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. “If we get more, then we’ll have two (books) to give to them.”

“Hopefully down the road, people can see that this is lived experiences of students today and what they are conveying to the seafarers that went over and what they want them to know about what’s happening here in Nova Scotia.”

The campaign is currently inviting schools across the province to get involved, noting that letters by students can be sent to Auburn Drive High School before the end of March.

In addition to the letter-writing campaign, Hudson says that municipal proclamations will also be included, a goal she saw realized in Halifax.

On January 15, 2022, the province as well as Mayor Mike Savage and Halifax council declared the Day of the Black Loyalist Exodus: 15 Ships to Sierra Leone.

“I’m very pleased and feel elated because this was history that was erased and now people can see that it does exist,” says Hudson, who was among those who proposed the proclamation to HRM council. “Telling our own stories and having the province, as well as HRM, declare January 15 as the exodus of the Black Loyalist is actually very commemorating on their part and it shows their commitment to change and to listen, but also to create meaningful action.”

So far, Hudson is thrilled by the interest of students and other municipalities in the #1792Project and she looks forward to further commemorating the legacy of the long-forgotten Black Loyalists whose struggles for civil rights continue to resonate to this very day.

“We want people to always remember reparations — always remember, never forget this important history,” says Hudson. “(And) those children’s voices need to be amplified and so with the Book Of Letters, that is what we are trying to do — to amplify their stories and what they speak about within their letters.”

For more information, visit the Auburn Drive High School's #1792Project website.

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