Monday, February 4, 2019

Africville by Shauntay Grant, pictured by Eva Campbell

In an article for CBCBooks, Shauntay Grant says that when she began writing her tribute to Africville, she had originally intended it to be a poem, a tribute to this once thriving community of black refugees, including runaway slaves from America, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The poem was to be about her visit to the site where Africville had once been, and which had lasted 150 years before the government tore it down. But when she said the words she had written spoken aloud, she knew it had to be made into a children's picture book.  That book, of course, is Africville.

A young black girl implores "Take me to the end of the ocean.." and as she walks around the area where Africville once stood, she imagines what life was like for the people who had lived there and "where home smells like sweet apple pie and blueberry duff." More scenes of life greet her as she walks along and imagines kids picking berries from bushes thick with them, as her mind's eye sees other kids in a field playing football, still others rafting down a pond, and some catching cod fish from a dock.
Africville was home, where the pavement ends and family begins, where the young girl's family name is marked in stone, and people still come together and sing the old songs and share stories, and have memories of Africville. And though Africville is no longer a vibrant black community, its memory sparks dreams that turn to hope that never ends.
Told in spare, dreamlike lyrical language, Grant paints a picture of what home was for the people of Africville, complimented by the oil and pastel illustrations that carry the same sense of reality, yet are dreamily detailed to represent imagination. Africville is such a beautiful, loving homage to what was such an important part of American and Canadian black history.

What happened to Africville:
At the back of the book is a short history of Africville and its sad demise. This vibrant community may have been called home by many people, but it also lacked basic services, like paved roads, running water, sewers. Although the residents paid municipal taxes, it was decided by Halifax city officials to relocate its inhabitants and demolished Africville in the 1960s instead of making any attempt to bring those basic services to the residents - 150 years of history gone just like that.

Grant ended her tribute to Africville's history on a hopeful note - the young girl is a descendant of former residents, who have been having reunions there since 1983 of which she is a part.

Africville is an beautifully written, important work depicting one part of the rich history of black Canadians and Americans that shouldn't be forgotten. If you would like to explore the history of Africville, you can at the Africville Story Map, an interactive history,

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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