Visiting Lecturer Set to Deliver Two Presentations on Slave Life

Social justice issues of the past still have relevance today is the message that Cape Breton University’s (CBU) Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice Dr. Graham Reynolds is bringing to close to 450 Riverview High School students this week. 

Joined by visiting lecturer Dr. Harvey Amani Whitfield, a noted scholar of African Canadian history and Associate Professor of History at the University of Vermont, the event will focus on Racial Discrimination in the Maritimes from the Past to the Present. Dr. Whitfield will speak about slavery and the life of slaves in Maritime colonies followed by Dr. Reynolds, who will link the history of slavery and racial discrimination to the present day. A highlight of the event is the student panel discussion being held with five Riverview High School students – Bhreagh Ross, Ryan Nearing, Erin Blair-Steele, Chad Wilcox and Elise Marsman – on issues ranging from bullying to homosexuality.

“I think it is very important for students to understand the historical roots of racial discrimination in our province. Racism and other forms of prejudice are part of our history and understanding this history helps in the effort to address these problems in our society today. The mandate of the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice is to raise public awareness around social justice issues and working with visiting scholars like Dr. Whitfield helps to further advance the work of the Chair. I am extremely pleased that we are able engage youth in these important discussions,” Dr. Reynolds.

Harvey Amani Whitfield is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Vermont.  In 2006, he published Blacks on the Border: The Black Refugees in British North America, 1815-1860.  Whitfield has written several articles about free black communities in Nova Scotia.   His most recent articles explore slavery in the Maritime Colonies.  He is the author of numerous encyclopaedia entries and book reviews. Whitfield has presented academic papers at the Canadian Historical Association, American Historical Association, SHEAR, and the Harriet Tubman Centre.  He is currently working on a project about slavery and black citizenship in Revolutionary Vermont.

In addition to the student presentation, Dr. Whitfield is also presenting Slave Work and Slave Life in the Maritime Colonies as part of the 14th Annual J.B. McLachlan Memorial Lecture on Friday, October 26 at 1:30 p.m. in the Sydney Credit Union Boardroom (CE265) at CBU. Sponsored by the Department of History and Culture and the J.B. McLachlan Commemorative Society, the lecture will explore the life and labour of slave and free blacks in the maritime colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. This lecture is free and the general public are welcome to attend.

The annual lecture honours the life and legacy of one of Cape Breton’s and Canada’s finest labour leaders, J.B. McLachlan. A Scottish immigrant and coal miner who arrived in Cape Breton in 1902, McLachlan lead District 26 of the United Mine Workers of America; a dedicated union organizer and radical, McLachlan died in 1937.

For more information on the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice visit