Slavery and Human Rights

Image: This medal was struck in 1834 to commemorate Emancipation throughout the British Empire (courtesy Bolton Museum)

After leaving a quarantine station off the coast of South Carolina, Aminata is taken to Charlestown. As she arrives in the city, she observes with horror a slave auction like the one at which she was sold upon arrival in America. Consider her description of the scene:

Near the platform stood a group of Africans, some barely able to stand…Five of them looked like they would not regret the closing fist of death. I felt my stomach churning, my throat tightening. I looked down to avoid meeting their eyes. I was fed, and they were not. I had clothes, and they had none. I could do nothing to change their prospects or even my own. That, I decided, was what it meant to be a slave: your past didn’t matter; in the present you were invisible and you had no claim on the future…I didn’t know where my own child was. I wouldn’t even know if his name had been changed. I had lost any hope of finding him.

I looked up from the street and again at the wretched captives. I vowed not to let the noises of the city drown out their voices or rob me of my past. It was less painful to forget, but I would look and I would remember.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Compare Aminata’s perspective on this scene to that of a slave trader who may have been there as well.
  2. Should governments in places such as Canada compensate the descendants of victims of slavery?
  3. If compensation were not given to descendants of slaves, how else could governments or society today address the wrongs committed during that time?
  4. Conduct some further research to find one success story and one area where work still needs to be done to achieve proper recognition for human rights in today’s world.

You may also want to consult the full UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Additional resources on Equity and Human Rights within Black History in Canada.

Activity: Debate

Lawrence Hill has said, “I love Canada and I choose to live here and I’m proud of that, but I don’t think it serves us to sugarcoat our history.”

How well has Canada told its history about slavery?

Has this story been under-told? How well known is the history of slavery in Canada?

As a class, debate the following resolution:

Be it resolved that: Canada needs to do a better job of telling the story of slavery in Canadian history.