Jeff Green | Feb 19, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - February 19, 2009 local resident stresses the need to be carefully taughtBy Julie Druker
Carleton Brown of Verona shares his family history
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before its too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate,You’ve got to be carefully taught.You've Got to be Carefully Taught
Rodgers & Hammerstein, South Pacific
Retired teacher Carleton Brown recently shared an in-depth look into the history of slavery in Canada and into that particular part of his own family’s history, to mark Black History month.
While Brown believes that all history should be integrated and ongoing and not focused on particular aspects at designated times of the year, he happily accepted an invitation to speak to a church group at Trinity United Church in Verona.
Brown admitted, “It’s an easy thing for me to do. I like to help people become more aware”.
Brown began his talk by stating the facts, the first being: “There was slavery in Canada”.
Slavery began in Lower Canada in 1628. After 1783, 2000 more slaves were brought here by Loyalists from the USA; 1200 settled in the Maritimes, 300 in Lower Canada and 500 in Upper Canada.
In 1793, slavery was partially abolished in Canada in that no new slaves could be brought into the British Commonwealth. Existing slaves, however, continued to be “grandfathered”. It was not until 1834 that the British finally emancipated all slaves in the Commonwealth.
Carleton Brown is a sixth generation Canadian. His ancestors originated from the southern States of Kentucky and South Carolina, where they had been slaves. In the 1850s they came north to Canada and settled in Elgin, Ontario, a settlement located just south of Chatham, which was set up in 1849 specifically for newly freed slaves.
Many of Elgin's original settlers were fugitive slaves who had arrived from the southern United States, having made the dangerous journey north via the “Underground Railroad”, the name given to a human network of individuals who risked their lives assisting the slaves in their journey north to freedom.
Brown touched on the most famous Underground Railroad “conductor”, Harriet Tubman, who made 13 trips in total and escorted more than 150 slaves to freedom.
He also talked about the history of the Elgin settlement, which was founded by William King and is now called North Buxton.
The original Elgin settlers were sold 50 acre plots at $2.50 an acre, which they cleared, farmed, and built homes on. In time the settlement thrived and became known for its school, which gained a prestigious reputation in the area and became one of the first integrated schools in North America.
Five generations of Brown’s family came from North Buxton and some of his cousins still reside there. It’s a place that Brown visited all through his childhood and still visits to this day. The museum in Buxton has officially become a national historic site.
As a young man, Brown’s father left Buxton and got a job with the CP railroad as a porter, which Brown says was “one of the only decent steady jobs that a black man could get back then” and he ended up settling in Toronto, where Carleton Brown was born and raised.
At that time, Toronto was not the multicultural place that it is now.
Brown recalled, “I was always aware that my skin was different than everybody else’s and it was difficult. My parents constantly told me to be on my best behavior because if I did something out of line people would say ‘Look at that black guy‘, or use one of those terms”.
In his presentation Brown also addressed attitudes towards race. With the aid of movie clips, poetry and historical video clips he pinpointed two ideas that are central to his understanding of racial attitudes.
The first idea is exemplified by one of Brown’s favorite poems, “Blink Your Eyes” by the late American poet and performer Sekou Sundiata. One of its lines, “It all depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you’re living in…”, highlights the idea that no one should ever be judged by the colour of their skin. Brown conceded this attitude is catching on with younger generations and that indeed times seem to be changing with the electing of Barack Obama, which he sees as a sign of progress and hope.
To demonstrate his next point Brown played a clip from the movie South Pacific and the song, “You’ve got to be carefully taught”. It reinforces Brown’s firm belief that racism is not innate, but rather, is taught. Unfortunately it continues to be taught. Brown said, “I’d like people to be aware that prejudice is something that they are taught; it’s real, but not inborn.”
Children are often dependable purveyors of the truth. Carleton Brown’s wife Linda mentioned how one youngster in a group she had been reading to earlier in the day, hit the nail on the head when she was asked what colour most of the people around her were.
The child’s response? “Peach!”
While Brown sees that positive change is happening he is also careful to point out that there is still a long way to go.
In taking the time to share the facts and his family’s history, he is working to hasten that change.