It was not in Dominica where I first became familiar with the value and importance of the celebration of Black History Month, which now takes place annually in many countries. In the early 1990’s I was working as a librarian at the Nova Scotia Archives in that Canadian province’s capital city, Halifax. Within that library’s collection were numerous monographs and serials which emphasized the tremendous cultural, educational and historical contributions of African Nova Scotians to the Maritime region in particular.
Since that time, festivities surrounding Black History and Culture have expanded to many countries, including the Caribbean. Dominica’s Roseau Public Library is no exception, and I was delighted to see their promotion of this important event during the month of February.
As a bibliophile, I really enjoyed perusing the special collection of materials that emphasize Black authors, history and literature. Although these books are housed in the reference section, they are available for a special loan. You can search the collection’s OPAC (online public access catalog) with the subject of Black History to see the extensive listings here.
Here is a glimpse at some of the incredible titles that are found in that section:
A carousel of books in the circulating collection also featured prominently upon entering the library. I was delighted that one of my donations, The Book of Negroes
by award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill has been heavily borrowed by keen readers in the past few years.
While I am always interested in books, I rarely take in a film or video, even though I can access these genres as easily as anyone else.
But during Dominica’s Black History Month, I broke that tradition, as I was very interested in seeing one of their featured films: 12 Years a Slave.
Many people may have already viewed this renowned and acclaimed film, which was released in 2013. I was one of a small crowd that gathered at the library one evening to see it up close and personal.
From the start, I was completely taken with the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in northern New York state in the 1800’s. He was tricked into going ‘south’ in 1841 and was immediately sold into slavery, ending up in very abusive and cruel conditions on two plantations in Louisiana. This movie was so graphic and detailed in terms of the gruesome violence that he and other slaves experienced that I could not look at the screen during those episodes. It was enough to hear their cries of anguish. Tears were already falling down my cheeks by the time Northup meets a Canadian abolitionist who was working on the plantation as a carpenter. This man risks his life to get letters delivered to family and authorities who in turn ensure Northup’s release from bondage by physically removing him from the property. Of course, the southern slaves could only look on as he made his way back to freedom in the ‘north’. (Note: his experience took place a few years before the Civil War).
Certainly, there is more to the story, and I’ll leave that for you to experience on your own. I can only conclude this brief review by remarking that human beings are capable of the most despicable acts of cruelty against each other, and on the other hand, the resilience of the human spirit is awe-inspiring. I was so moved by this story that I dreamed about it. I don’t think I can ever forget what I saw and heard in 12 Years A Slave. . However, I know that it reinforces my personal beliefs that we are all equal, regardless of culture, race or background and that when we treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect, we will create a more harmonious, peaceful world in which to live.
Hats off the the staff at the Roseau Public Library and the organizers of Black History
Month in Dominica. About 800 students, their teachers and the general public have benefitted tremendously from the presentations, displays and films that have given us further understanding and knowledge about various aspects of Black history in Dominica, and around the world.