January 29, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 66  

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People and Places tells a brutally truthful story

Exhibit: People and Places: London’s Black Community
Location: Museum London

By Dallas Curow
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
KEEPING TIME. Currently on display at Museum London.

As part of their annual Black History Month celebrations, Museum London presents People and Places: London’s Black Community. The exhibit is a visual representation of the development and collective experience of London’s black community over the past 150 years.

Using a variety of media, the exhibit tells the story stretching from the American Civil War to present day.

Several informative posters provide background information, including the beginnings of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded in 1915. A series of newspaper articles, notices and bound journal editions are left open to read.

There are also original papers from various church services, many of which were named “the freedom masses.” Throughout the exhibit, a great sense of the hope and resilient spirit of the black community is evident.

The poster image of the exhibit is a 19th century compass. This was an incredibly strong symbol of hope, as fugitive slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad needed to know which direction was north. The compasses guided their paths to freedom. Drinking vessels made from hollowed-out gourds were another token of hope, as they were related to the big dipper, another guide to the north.

People and Places does not forget the heavier tones of black history. Encased in glass displays are iron shackles for children, and more horrific, slave branding irons. Original tools used in slavery, such as sheep shears and plowing tools, are also on display. These are placed in the centre of the exhibit, their position appropriate, as the escape from slavery brought many to Canada.

There is also a wide collection of documents from “The Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People” and the highly successful motivational newspaper The Dawn of Tomorrow. It is interesting to note that the community listings from the early to mid 1900s had marked “col’d” (meaning coloured) beside listings of black families. In spite of offering freedom, there is evidence the black community was still segregated in Canada.

The objective and truthful accounts of the history of London’s black community are effective in providing audiences with a rough, historical picture. However, the emphasis is on the positive.

The presentation of People and Places may be a bit on the dry side, but learning about the remarkable accomplishments of London’s black community is reason enough to check it out.



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