BY: ASHELLY SMITH
Have you ever heard of Emancipation Day? For West Indians, they would have a vast amount of knowledge on this special day. Even some people in the United States of America may be familiar with this day. What about Canadians? Do we even celebrate or emphasize on this day? Not heavily, but in the lively city of Toronto, it was recognized and celebrated.
On July 31, 2017, at 10:45 pm Toronto’s Union Subway station was filled with over three hundred people. Supporters came in numbers to board the Underground Freedom Train at 11:30 pm to travel to Sheppard West subway station arriving there at 12:15 a.m. on August 1st. This Freedom Train Ride also took place in Ottawa at the same time.
Some may ask what does Emancipation Day mean. What does the day have to do with me? Is it even relevant to celebrate? Well, Emancipation Day is when the government declared that it would be against the law to make the people or descendants of the people taken from Africa continue to work as slaves. In Ontario and in the Caribbean the Emancipation holiday was marked as the day when slavery ended. For 400 years, millions of children, women, and men were taken away from Africa and brought to a foreign country to work as slaves. “Slaves” are people who were belittled and mistreated by their masters. They were human beings who were forced to work for free. They weren’t even allowed to get breaks. Slaves would work all day tirelessly to not be punished or killed if the tasks were not done. They were treated as prisoners shackled from their hands to their feet one behind the other; there was no escape, no hope, no compassion, and no love from their masters. It was a pure hardship. The slaves were forced to change their names, religions, beliefs, language and no permission to go anywhere. Some slaves would be on plantations working industriously in the hot burning sun, sweating and being denied food or drink. Slaveholders would whip, shackle, hang, burn and beat imprisoned slaves. Slaves, women, in particular, would be subjected to rape or sexual abuse if disobedience was seen.
Today, we no longer face that in the working environment. If I feel like I am being mistreated by my boss or ‘master’ I can simply leave the job. I can look forward and say to myself where do I want to work now? I have options. I have choices. I am not shackled nor have a master with a whip behind my back. Neither do you, neither do all Canadians, we have rules and laws that now govern the workforce. If they are breached, it can be dealt with appropriately with certain consequences that no person in authority would want to encounter. Therefore, on August 1st people and community organizations gathered at Sheppard West subway station to remember the hardships that slaves went through. The organizations that were there are African Canadian Heritage Association, A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, Zero Gun Violence Movement, Ontario Black History Society, Association of Black Law Enforcers, CBTU (Coalition of Black Trade Unionist), Josh Cole (Toronto Councillor Ward 15) and Cree Nation. The Mayor of Toronto, John Tory was present to speak about the importance of Emancipation Day.
A point that is often overlooked on Emancipation Day is that in the past when slaves were captured, life still continued for brave and determined slaves. To explain, some slaves refused to stay captive by their masters and found a way to escape. They used the Underground Railroad which was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during that era. The route led them to Canada and free states with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Hence, this is how the event was named ‘The Underground Freedom Train Ride’. There was one proceeding that happened last year and at this year’s Annual Underground Freedom Train Ride. Last year, a married couple exchanged their vows at the event. Dannavan Samuels and Arsema Berhana symbolized that life continued for some slaves as they escaped to find peace and love. This year, they presented their baby, Nahomi Samuels, at the event to hundreds of people. It was a sight to see and a remarkable act. Who would have done that so courageously?
In conclusion, the Underground Free Trade Ride was to remember and pay respect to the slaves that fought their way through. Emancipation Day is the day used to recognize slavery abolishment. I understand that some people may think some kinds of slavery still exist and that may just be true. But as the great legend says “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. Even though we are freed we still have to liberate our mentality and only you can do it.