Black Canadian Studies chair launches Distinguished Lecture Series

First lecture features "Rocky" Jones, Halifax lawyer and human rights advocate

- November 17, 2011

Afua Cooper, the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
Afua Cooper, the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

Afua Cooper began her tenure as the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in August, and she’s moving quickly to increase the chair’s profile.

“Our mandate is vast, but at its core, it’s about knowledge mobilization—research, teaching, publishing—of black Canadian studies,” explains Dr. Cooper. “Further, it is also to serve as a bridge between the Dalhousie community and the broader community—specifically the black community here in Halifax and across Nova Scotia.”

The chair is also the first black studies chair in Canada, giving it a national mandate in addition to its important local role.

Next week, the chair is hosting its first two major events to mark the launch of Dr. Cooper’s tenure. The first is a memorial service dedicated to the chair’s namesake. James Robinson Johnston (1876-1915) earned his Bachelor of Letters degree from Dalhousie in 1896, followed by his Bachelor of Laws in 1898. This made him the first African Nova Scotian to graduate from university, and in addition to a noted career in criminal and military law, he was also a strong advocate for civil rights.

“It’s a chance to recognize a true community leader,” says Dr. Cooper. “I don’t think he really has the profile that he deserves, given his accomplishments.”

The service takes place on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. Mr. Johnston was an active member of the church – he played the organ, organized choirs and raised funds to help pay off its mortgage.

"Rocky" Jones' living history

The second event is the inaugural lecture in the chair’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which will be ongoing throughout its tenure. The lecture will be delivered by Burnley “Rocky” Jones, Halifax lawyer and human rights advocate, speaking on “The Struggle for Human Rights in African Nova Scotian Communities, 1961-2011.” The lecture takes place Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Potter Auditorium of the Rowe building.

“[Mr. Jones] doesn’t often share his experiences, so this is a remarkable opportunity for the community to hear about the living, current history of African Nova Scotians,” says Dr. Cooper. “The lecture series was established, really to bring together Dal and the community to investigate some topics in black Canadian studies, and this is will be a wonderful start.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Cooper works to build out the chair’s mandate. She’s working on establishing its research program and has spent the fall reaching out to black Nova Scotian leaders in Halifax—secular and spiritual—with plans to travel the province for more community consultations in the months ahead. The chair is also starting plans for events to mark Black History Month in February.

“Through our work, we hope to make black Canadian studies visible in our community in a very real way, and hopefully these lectures can help with that.”


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