I have delayed posting about Black History Month (BHM) for the past few weeks not only because my schedule has been packed with events and meetings to celebrate such an important time, but because this year I decided to enjoy it and let others do the work that I do all year round. I spent time reading the posts of others, and also just absorbing the beauty of Black History all over the world. However, I did want to share the story of my own personal Black History that has become of particular interest to me in the past few years.
I grew up in South Africa and as a descendant of a mixed heritage, much of my history was told through oral stories enjoyed at family gatherings or time with grandparents, aunts and uncles during belly laugh conversations and tense political discussions. It was a part of my childhood I cherished, and even then I held onto every tale of love, family and resilience through racially oppressive eras. For some reason the story of my great grandmother and great grandfather was one that stuck in my memory into my adulthood. Perhaps it was because my great grandmother lived to be 98 and I had the privilege of hearing much of it directly from her.
She told us my great grandfather was from west Africa of Nigerian descent and had left the shores of that region aboard a ship that brought him to Cape Town, South Africa. It was here that he met my great grandmother who was the daughter of an immigrant Japanese father and Javanese mother. Their son, my grandfather John Thomas Peters, was an amazing man. Despite the challenges and barriers growing up in Apartheid put before him, he was an activist and an advocate in his local community. I grew up in a family who emphasized to all of us grandchildren (there are about 40 of us), that the color of our skin did not determine our value and worth, no matter what the world tried to tell us. This formed my foundations and my roots.
It was not until I arrived in Canada and was introduced to "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill that I began to take an interest in where my great grandfather came from. I had heard the story of how my great, great, great grandfather had been a captured slave who had been taken to the USA and had then escaped and made his way back to Africa which is where the story of my great grandfather began. As I read the story of Aminata Diallo, the main character of the book, the stories I had heard aligned so well with her story, and it was at the end of the book that I saw the name: Thomas Peters. All of a sudden it all made sense, this was my great, great, great grandfather I had heard of.
The story of his life did not align with the character of his name in the book, but it provided me with the inspiration to pursue his story and what I found was life changing. Thomas Peters was a renowned Black Loyalist who had led Nova Scotian Black settlers back to west Africa and established Freetown in Sierra Leone. I had made the journey of my ancestor from Africa to Canada as a free woman.
A post for another day, I hope to continue this journey of finding my roots. It is unbelievable to think how much my current life resembles the fight for social justice that my ancestors fought that got me to where I am today. It seems to be in my DNA.