Tracking the African diaspora through Halifax
Exchange students from Georgia visit Dal
Ryan McNutt - July 11, 2012
It’s warm in Halifax these days, but to a group of university students visiting from Savannah State University in Georgia, it could certainly be warmer.
Indeed, Halifax isn’t quite as hot in July as the American south, but what really surprised the students taking part in Savannah State's Canada Study Abroad course had nothing to do with the climate, or Canadian prices (which seem high by comparison). Instead, it was lessons learned about African and black histories that don’t get much attention south of the border.
“African Canadians do share some of the similar struggles as we do,” explains student Aleisha Donald. “I thought when coming to Canada that it was one of the most diverse, tolerant places in the world, but being here you learn that they face the same struggles and issues we have back in America.”
The study abroad course for Savannah State, a historically black college, has been co-hosted by Dalhousie’s James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Afua Cooper. The course focuses on the literature and history of the Underground Railroad, tracing the path of African diaspora descendents America to Canada, from Loyalist refugees to transported slaves.
“Savannah is one of America’s largest ports, so you had slaves not only arriving but departing and being transported to Canada,” explains Nat Hardy, a literature professor and one of two organizers of the course. “Then you have black Loyalists, refugees, and other parts of the African diaspora here. So it’s a good fit for this program, and an important part of Canadian and North American history to explore.”
Discovering the past
“It’s about making connections, these African diaspora connections, and Canada’s a place that’s often left out of that discussion,” adds DeReef Jamison, who teaches Africana studies and runs the exchange program with Dr. Hardy. “So it’s great to get it back into the mix.”
The students come from a variety of disciplines, from accounting to biology. Each week, they write blog posts, a thought paper and then have both a creative and a paper assignment due after the trip.
In addition to lectures—including some from Dr. Cooper and Professor Isaac Saney—they’ve visited sights and events including Pier 21, the Cornwallis Baptist Church, the Halifax Jazz Festival, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, North Preston and Africville, which left a particular impression on some students.
“I want to share about Africville [when I return] since it’s an issue that should be internationally known,” said student Aaron Brown.
The students and faculty return to Georgia later this week.