Black British Columbians: Conference on Race, Space, Historical Politics – Van April 11-12/12

The Centre for Culture, Identity and Education (CCIE),
University of British Columbia

Presents a Free Two-Day Conference

Black British Columbians:
Race, Space and the Historical Politics of Difference at the
US/Canada Border

April 11 & 12, 2012
St. John’s College
2111 Lower Mall
University of British Columbia

April 11 – 8:00 a.m. Registration – Social Lounge
April 12 – 8:30 a.m. at Lecture Hall



8:00am – 8:30am Registration, coffee
8:30am – 9:00am
Welcome to UBC and Opening Comments – Dean Blye Frank
Introduction of Promised Land Project and Black British Columbians Conference – Handel Wright
9:00am – 10:25am Keynote Address
The Polluting Power of Blackness: African Canadians as Historical Outsiders – Afua Cooper
10:30am – 12:00 noon Plenary 1:
Rethinking the Underground Railroad: Substance and Method
Adam’s Journey to the Promised Land – Ron Nicholson
An Exercise in Interdisciplinarity: The ‘Promised Land Project,’ Modes of Historical Investigation in a Community-University Research Alliance – Claudine Bonner
12:00noon – 12:55pm Lunch
1:00pm – 2:30pm Session 2:
Black Lives and Social and Cultural Relations in Early BC
Narrative of Interraciality: Social, Cultural and ‘Racial’ Encounters Between Blacks, Whites, and Aboriginals in 19th Century British Columbia – Dilek Kayaalp
Stories from the Grave: Pioneer Black Women Settlers in Canada’s British Northwest – Patrick Radebe
Prince Hall Pioneers of British Columbia – Llyod C. Davis, Jr.
4:00pm – 5:30pm Keynote Address
The Story in Black History: Methodology and the Underground Railway – Crawford Kilian

8:30am – 9:00am – Registration, coffee
(re) introduction of PLP and Conference – Handel Wright
9:00am – 10:25am Keynote Address and Q&A
Hopeful Crossings in Deep Waters: Navigating Memory, Spirituality, and the Meanings of Diaspora in a Black Woman’s Life – Cynthia Dillard
10:30am – 12:00 Plenary Session2:
Black Lives: Gender, Class and Method
‘There Ain’t Nobody Going to Do It for You’: The Work and Life Struggles of Black Working Class Women in British Columbia, 1910s to 1930s – Sherry Edmunds-Flett
What Manner of History is This? Beyond Naïve Realism in the Promised Land Project’s (Re)telling of the Underground Railroad – Handel Kashope Wright
12:00noon – 12:55pm Lunch
1:00pm – 2:30pm Session 4:
From Early Black Settlers to Contemporary Black and African British Columbians
The Black Pioneers: A Brief History of Early Black Settlers in British Columbia – Maryam Nabavi
To Be or Not Be African or Black or Not to Be Both: The Dialectics of the Politics of Identity, Group Solidarity and Factionalism Among African Canadians – Charles Quist-Adade.
The Construction of Self Identity: Struggles of the African Youth in the Diaspora – Thato Magkolane & Osage Omokaro
4:00pm – 5:30pm Keynote Address and Q&A
Setting the Scene: Accounting for Differences in Attitudes towards Blacks
Between the American and Canadian Pacific Northwest – Jean Barman

On April 18th, 1858 in response to an invitation from the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, thirty five Black women and men left San Francisco aboard the ship Commodore bound for Victoria. When they arrived at Victoria Harbour on April 25th, they became the first Black people in the new colony, soon to be joined by six hundred additional Blacks, all looking to escape the overt racism, lack of opportunity and in some cases informal servitude of California for the promise of freedom, economic opportunity and citizenship in the Colony of British Columbia. There was soon a substantial Black presence in the Colony from Victoria to New Westminster, Kamloops to Salt Spring Islands, indeed enough to facilitate the establishment of the all Black Victoria Pioneers Rifle Corps (aka the African Rifles) in 1860.

Prominent figures included the businessman and deputy Mayor of Victoria Mifflin Gibbs; Louis and Sylvia Stark who were the first non-Aboriginal homesteaders on Salt Spring Island and their daughter, Emily Stark who was one of the first teachers in BC; Kamloops councillor John Freemont Smith; activists for women’s rights, Clarisa Fortune and Annie Norton; and dentist Allen Jones.

The presence of Blacks complicated the politics of difference in the Colony as working and romantic relationships and everyday interactions were negotiated between aboriginals, whites and Blacks in the Colony. Unfortunately much of that history and especially the historical and indeed contemporary presence and participation is largely marginalized in accounts about BC.

Vancouver takes considerable pride in its current multiculturality- its ethnoracial diversity, the common place nature of interracial and interethnic relationships and increasing mixed raced population. Strangely, the historicity of the politics of difference is eschewed in this presentist conception of BC diversity, including the substantial contribution of Blacks. Indeed, to return to the origin, most accounts do not acknowledge that Governor James Douglas, whose invitation resulted in the first wave of Black settlers in BC was himself multiracial: his mother was Creole and his father a Scotsman and furthermore, Douglas’ wife, Amelia was multiracial- aboriginal and white.

This conference on Black BC is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Culture, Identity and Education and the Promised Land Community-University Research Project. With highlights that include keynote addresses by Jean Barman, Afua Cooper, Cynthia Dillard and Crawford Kilian, it brings together prominent community historians, youth activists and academics to address issues such as Black trajectories including the links between movements within Canada and historical and contemporary US/Canada border crossings; the lives and works of prominent male and female Black Pioneers; the significance of the African Rifles; interacial relationships, multiracial identities and the politics of difference in historical BC and the curious marginalization of the historical and contemporary presence of blackness in present day conceptualizations of British Columbia. This conference is intended to highlight the historical and contemporary presence of blacks in British Columbians, a presence that tends to be relegated to being an “absent presence.”


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