In February 2018, William Lahey, the President of the University of King’s College, acting on a recommendation from the Board of Governors’ Equity Committee, initiated a scholarly inquiry to examine the possible connections between the university and slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Considering that King’s is the oldest chartered university in Nova Scotia (and Canada), with its own distinct history, the president and the Equity Committee decided that this inquiry should be independent from the Lord Dalhousie panel, which is an inquiry into statements and actions concerning slavery and race by Lord Dalhousie, conducted at Dalhousie University.
The initial announcement took place at the New Horizons Baptist Church, in the presence of members of the African-Nova Scotian community. Four teams of scholars were appointed and tasked with conducting independent research to establish the connections, direct and indirect, that may have existed between King’s and slavery and the slave economy of the North Atlantic world in late 18th and early 19th centuries. Shortly after, King’s was invited to join the Consortium of North American Universities Studying Slavery, which was convened in 2017 on the initiative of the University of Virginia. Currently, the Consortium comprises over 40 participants, who convene for conferences and exchange ideas about how to deal with the difficult past, to offer restitution for the communities that have been affected by slavery and its aftermath, and to envisage the best ways of moving forward.
King’s inquiry has been proceeding in a timely fashion. In late August, two papers, a comprehensive literature review by Dr. Jerry Barrister and Ms. Hanna Barrie, and Dr. Henry Roper’s report on the connections between King’s, New York (later Columbia University) and King’s, Nova Scotia, were submitted for comments to a nine-person review panel, chaired by Dr. Dorota Glowacka. The review panel includes independent researchers from other academic institutions, King’s students and faculty, members of the King’s Board of Governors, and members of the African-Nova Scotian community. Following an extensive review, Dr. Roper revised and resubmitted his paper, and Dr. Barrister’s revisions are expected by the end of November. The other two papers, Dr. Shirley Tillotson’s study of the indirect connections between King’s and the slave-based economy in Nova Scotia, written in consultation with Dr. Harvey Amani Whitefield, and Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and David States’ archival research on direct connections to slavery on the part of King’s governors, funders, staff and students, are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018. The completed papers will be posted on the King’s website, with the view to future publication.
In the meantime, on October 29, 2018, President Lahey hosted an information session, with the aim to disseminate the knowledge about the inquiry among King’s students, faculty, staff, and the members of the Board of Governors, and to provide a forum for questions and the exchange of views about the purpose and progress of the inquiry. Representatives of the African-Nova Scotian community were invited to participate in the session. The session opened with President Lahey’s welcome and introduction, followed by remarks by Douglas Ruck, Chair of King’s Board of Governors, Donald McLean, a member of the Board, and Dr. Sylvia Hamilton, all of whom are members of the review panel. Next, Dr. Henry Roper presented a preview of the results of his research and invited the audience to read his paper and find out what conclusions he had reached regarding the existence, nature and extent of connections between King’s, Nova Scotia, and King’s in New York. Dr. Shirley Tillotson, who is also a member of the Lord Dalhousie panel, shared the initial findings of her research, and Dr. Dorota Glowacka, Chair of the Review Panel and Chair of King’s Equity Committee, spoke about the goals and future directions of the inquiry within the context of similar efforts at other North American universities. The main purpose of the forum, however, was to receive direct feedback from the King’s community. Members of the Racialised Student Collective asked many important, difficult questions, mainly focusing on race relations at King’s today and on what they perceive as the lack of sufficient support and efforts to make the environment at King’s more open and accessible to marginalised groups.
Throughout the discussion, the members of the research team and the review panel underscored the necessity of uncovering the difficult past, coming to terms with its after effects, and revising the narratives about King’s history based on the findings of the research. They also ascertained that the long-term goal of the inquiry is to confront the past in a way that contributes to making King’s a place that is truly diverse and welcoming to all. These goals can only be achieved in dialogue with the members of the groups who have been affected by the legacies of racism, and the information forum was the first small step to provide a forum for these necessary conversations.
In conjunction with the inquiry, Dr. Harvey Amani Whitfield has been invited to deliver a lecture about slavery in Nova Scotia and its aftermath, entitled “Slave Lives Matter,” on January 10, 2019, and, following the publication of the research papers, the Equity Committee is planning other events, including a scholarly panel and a larger public information session.