Dr. Agnes Calliste.

Inequality remains historic reality in Nova Scotia schools

  • February 19, 2022

Though the last segregated schools in Nova Scotia shut their doors in 1983, educational inequalities are still a part of the Black experience in the Maritime province’s schools, says Dr. Barbara Hamilton-Hinch.

Hamilton-Hinch is associate vice-provost of equity and inclusion at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. In interviews with parents to learn more about Black children’s experiences in the school system in Nova Scotia, Hamilton-Hinch has found that many students continue to go through the public school system without ever having a single Black teacher. It’s much the same at the post-secondary level as well.

While Hamilton-Hinch celebrates the work and success legacy of these educators, she says an increase in their numbers is imperative.

“Those (African-Nova Scotian educators) stand in a place of resistance and strength and continue to represent the brilliance that is in our African-Nova Scotians,” said Hamilton-Hinch, who spoke at St. Francis Xavier University’s 12th annual lecture honouring the life and legacy of Dr. Agnes Calliste.

“The lived experiences and silent voices of those who are being discriminated against needs to be heard. The voices of parents and guardians who are fighting for an equitable education for their children needs to be heard. The voices of Black teachers and professors who fought and fight every day for our children need to be heard.”

The lecture, under the theme “Through Our Eyes: The Voices of African-Nova Scotians,” celebrated the impact of Calliste’s work and explored the history and effects of anti-Black racism on the lives of African-Nova Scotians and the resistance of many to fight for change. Calliste, who passed away in 2018, was a celebrated academic and a sociology professor who taught at St. FX for over two decades where she pioneered courses on the sociology of race and gender.

A Black Nova Scotian, Hamilton-Hinch was a friend of Calliste and has roots in two of the province’s historically Black communities, Beechville and Cherry Brook. Like Calliste, her research examines the impact of structural, systemic and institutional racism on diverse populations, particularly those of the African diaspora.

The Black Lives Matter movement of the past two years has amplified the lack of diversity and inclusion in classrooms, board rooms, government and service agencies, said Hamiliton-Hinch. Research on the racism in the education system shows the adverse academic, physical and mental health impact anti-Black racism has had on the province’s Black communities. She also stressed the positive impact and importance of representation and knowing and sharing the history of African-Nova Scotians.

Hamilton-Hinch spoke of the core African-Nova Scotian migrations that continue to impact the racial makeup of the province to this day: from Mathieu da Costa in 1604, the 3,500 Black Loyalists who arrived in Nova Scotia between 1783 and 1785 following the American Revolution, the Jamaican Maroons who arrived in 1796 after a series of wars with the colonial government, and the hundreds of Caribbean immigrants who came in the 1920s as domestic workers and labourers in the coal mines in Cape Breton.

Not all stayed, however, refusing to stand for the everyday racism they faced. The first mass exodus of Blacks from Nova Scotia was in 1792 when 1,000 Loyalist men, women and children left for Sierra Leone in west Africa to escape racism, discrimination and the broken promises for land and freedom in Nova Scotia. This year marks the 230-year anniversary of that migration. Sierra Leone is one of the few countries on the African continent with a direct connection to Nova Scotia. Hamilton-Hinch says it’s a history that Blacks in Nova Scotia need to know.

“I don’t think any of us can imagine what that walk was like from as far as Cape Breton, which is almost a four-hour drive from Halifax, to join the 15 ships sailing to Freetown (Sierra Leone),” said Hamilton-Hinch. “Many might have died on the way, but for so many, it was worth the risk rather than staying in Nova Scotia. This again, speaks to our strength and resilience.”

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