Frank Mackey recalls our black history
by Melina Giubilaro
Last Thursday at the Atwater Library Lunchtime Series, in celebration of Black History Month, the author of Done with Slavery: The Black Fact in Montreal, Frank Mackey informed the audience about Montreal’s everyday Blacks as opposed to famous black role models.
Mackey’s book shows that although Blacks were ordinary people, being black was not considered normal at the time, a fact that led whites to believe they could own and mistreat blacks.
Mackey’s main idea for the book was to tell a story and to name actual names for readers who wanted to learn more about black slaves.
“It’s not the kind of book you would want to read and not put down. You’re probably going to put it down,” Mackey said, in reference to the density of historical detail.
The book consists of narratives, appendices, notes and bibliographies. Mackey explained that there was one page in his book of a list of ads and transcriptions that appeared in Quebec newspapers relating to the sales of slaves and escapes.
“If you read one ad, it’s easy to digest. The thing I found was that if you read the ads serially it would hit you at a certain point about how awful the whole idea was.” Mackey said. “When you see ads for young children [aged] three or four years old, then I think it becomes difficult to read.”
Mackey wanted to portray normal, everyday black people instead of the typical well-known role models. Traditionally, Canadian role models are white explorers, merchants or politicians. Mackey also mentions that many of those role models were actually slave owners.
“In terms of role models you have to wonder: is the person who owns a slave a role model or is the slave who suffers a role model?” Mackey said.
Anyone who reads the book will become more aware of the presence of Blacks. Done With Slavery is like looking at the past through a black prism. Mackey’s intention was to write about slavery and what the living conditions were like after slavery.
“Slavery draws the full attention [of today’s society] because it seems to be so outside that image of what we have of our past,” Mackey said.