Nova Scotia students commemorate Black Loyalists who sailed to Sierra Leone in 1792

Click to play video: 'Students pay tribute to Black Loyalists who sailed to Sierra Leone in 1792'
Students pay tribute to Black Loyalists who sailed to Sierra Leone in 1792
Students at a high school in Cole Harbour are commemorating the 230th anniversary of the exodus of Black Loyalists, when nearly 1,200 people set sail from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone – Feb 2, 2022

Auburn Drive High school students have been encouraged by their principal to take part in a project to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the exodus of Black Loyalists, marking its historical significance.

On Jan. 15, 1792, nearly 1,200 people set sail from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in Africa. The passengers were all of African descent and decided to emigrate to Africa after the colonial government didn’t keep its promise of land to the Black Loyalists.

The project, titled #1792, allows people to either draw a picture or write a poem or a letter to one of the passengers of the ships from the perspective of the students, to reflect on how the seafarers may have felt and as a way to connect students to their roots.

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“(The students) may talk about race issues here and say things haven’t changed and we’re still struggling. We’re still struggling with issues of racism and unfairness, inequality and biases. We’re still struggling fighting for land. We’re still fighting for proper education or education that talks about our history, from the truth,” says Karen Hudson, the principal at the Cole Harbour school.

Hudson is determined to get students provincewide to take part in the project and thus far it has received letters from students at Astral Junior High and Citadel High.

To date, 155 letters have been collected.

Hudson has also received proclamations from the premier of Nova Scotia, the mayor of Halifax and the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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Zion Ash, a Grade 11 student at Auburn Drive High, wrote his letter to a 15-year-old boy. In his letter, he explains how he never learned about Black history until he was in the ninth grade.

“I was talking to him how about what happened to him must have affected him and how racism and discrimination could affect the young Black mind and how racism and discrimination could hurt a Black child,” he says.

Ash, who is Black, says in some ways he felt like he was speaking to a younger version of himself. He believes many issues the Black Loyalists faced are still present to this day.

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“You grow up and see especially with social media nowadays, you’re seeing Black people being killed for no reason like what happened with George Floyd. And there’s young children on social media that are seeing this stuff. And to think what they’re going through to see their own people be killed for no reason, I feel like it would really have an effect on your self-esteem and your outlook on life,” he says.

Click to play video: 'New coin honoring Black Loyalists has been commissioned'
New coin honoring Black Loyalists has been commissioned

Hudson hopes to collect 1,196 letters in total between now and March 15.

“We want one for every Loyalist that left — 1,196. We want to give them a letter,” she says.

Wanting to learn more about her own history, Ianiesha Simmons, a Grade 12 student at Auburn Drive, jumped at the opportunity to take part in the project.

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“It makes me want to get deeper into who I really am, and my surroundings and family and everything,” says Simmons

In her letter, she wrote about how present-day people in her hometown of North Preston are still fighting for clear title of their land. Her grandmother only received a clear land title several years ago.

She also wrote about how racism affects her.

“For example, if you’re walking around a store, you have people following you because of your colour. You can’t go around expensive things without people thinking you’re going to do something bad to get those expensive things.”

“It makes me feel sad because why do you have to think I’m a bad person because of my colour,” she says.

Hudson says she wants to have the letters put in a museum.

If you are interested in reading some of the letters written by students, you can go to the Auburn Drive High website.


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