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Black History Celebrated

Black history celebrated
Wed, February 1, 2006
A wide range of events looks back at the roles played by blacks in shaping London's identity.

Michelle Edwards, head of Londonís black history advisory committee, shows off John Paul II secondary school student Katrina Huygenís work, We Are All People Under Our Coverings. The work is one of several by area students in Museum Londonís We All Count show, part of Black History Month. (Susan Bradnam, The London Free Press)

A month-long celebration launched in London yesterday will honour the largely unsung role of blacks in the city's history.

Black History Month, with a variety of events, will showcase London's diversity and offer a chance to look back at the role of blacks in shaping the city's identity.

"I think it's important to . . . raise awareness of what the city of London is all about and show how our unique natures can come together to make a very vibrant community," said Michelle Edwards, chairperson of London's black history advisory committee.

Edwards spoke yesterday at Museum London during a news conference for Black History Month.

Participants were surrounded by an art display created by students from the Thames Valley and London Catholic school boards and Nancy Campbell Collegiate Institute, a private school.

Students from kindergarten to Grade 12 were invited to contribute to a show called We All Count -- A Student Tribute to Understanding, Acceptance and Inclusion.

Edwards said the celebration provides an opportunity to examine black Canadians' contributions to making Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation it is.

Historical accounts show London's black community dates to the 1830s and was clustered at first near Horton and Thames streets.

The black population was made up of free blacks and fugitive slaves fleeing the U.S. in the years before its Civil War. The black population is believed to have peaked at about 400 people in 1860.

London was less attractive to fleeing slaves than communities such as Chatham and St. Catharines because it is farther from the border.

Historian Chris Doty said historic accounts of London's development have tended to focus on industry builders and other major figures.

But blacks, who have garnered much less attention, also played important roles in early London, said Doty.

He points to the example of London's early town criers, who were black, or to Charles Pope, a black county constable who played a vital role in the investigation of the 1880 massacre of five members of the Donnelly family.

Pope was one of the first officers on the massacre scene near Lucan and helped investigate the killings, said Doty.

Later, he was given the job of guarding Johnny O'Connor, a key witness at the murder trial.

"It was a dangerous assignment, especially for a black man at that time," said Doty. "There had been a black settlement in Lucan and the settlers had run off all the blacks years earlier, so they probably wouldn't have had any qualms about doing the same to Pope."


- Saturday 2 to 5 p.m.: Opening celebration at Museum London. Food, fashion, music.

- Feb. 10 to 12: Children's program, London Regional Children's Museum, 21 Wharncliffe Rd. S. Crafts, stories, food, music.

- Feb. 24, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.: Children's Museum, travelling exhibit of inventions by Africans.

- Feb. 24, 7 to 10 p.m.: Closing gala, Wolf Hall, Central Library, 261 Dundas St.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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