One hundred and eighty-seven years ago today, on 1 August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act took effect marking the legal end slavery across the British Empire. The Act emancipated over 800,000 enslaved Africans across the Caribbean and South America.
As educator and historian Natasha L. Henry notes, many enslaved Africans in British North America received only “partial liberation” under the Act because it emancipated children under the age of six while maintaining others as “apprentices” for four to six years.
Similarly, the Act did not compensate formerly enslaved Africans in British North American for the brutality and hardship they endured. Once emancipated, many went on to face intense discrimination in employment, housing, education, and most other areas of daily life.
We, CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members, celebrate Emancipation Day with these complicated legacies in mind.
We celebrate today even knowing that many Canadians remain unaware that enslavement occurred in Canada or that our streets, institutions, and communities continue to bear the names of slaveholders.
For many years, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) has called for Emancipation Day to be recognized federally and, as a result of their advocacy and determination, on March 24, 2021 the House of Commons voted unanimously to officially designate August 1 Emancipation Day.
This August 1st marks the first year that Emancipation Day has been recognized in all provinces.
On this historic and momentous day, we encourage you to participate in events such as the Freedom Train Ride, Emancipation Festival, and Emancipation Day Celebration (all virtual) and to reflect upon the Canada’s long history of anti-Black racism. Emancipation Day is not only a testament to how far we’ve come as a society but, also, a powerful reminder that we have much further to go. We must reach beyond partial liberation in our search for justice.