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Blacks in Early Canada: The Freedom Seekers

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The title of this project comes from the book: The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada.

Canada’s first black doctor, Anderson Ruffin Abbott, is among one of our nation’s most notable “passers.” His great-grandaughter, Catherine Slaney, only found out he was black in 1975 when sociologist Daniel Hill — an Ontario ombudsman and father of singer Dan Hill and author Lawrence Hill — went to interview her uncle about the family’s past for his book The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada.

“Those passing as white [in Canada] were not from the Caribbean but descendants of blacks who had immigrated to Canada during the Civil War and after that,” said Ms. Slaney, author of Family Secrets: Crossing the Colour Line. While there was no segregation law in Canada, discrimination was still rampant and those who passed along colour lines often felt unrooted, Ms. Slaney said — they didn’t share the Caribbean culture of black immigrants and so they often joined white mainstream society.

In the U.S., children and descendants of black slaves often passed, more notably Thomas Jefferson’s child Eston Hemmings, whom the U.S. president fathered with half-black slave descendant Sally Hemmings, who reinvented himself as a white man, Eston H. Jefferson.

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