Sleepless nights eventually led to Leonard Paris publishing a book on his experiences with racism and poverty in Pictou County.
Paris, who now lives in Mississauga, Ont., saw Jim Crow Also Lived Here: Structural Racism and Generational Poverty, Growing up Black in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia published last October. It was a project he began in the autumn of 2018.
“I couldn’t sleep at night,” said 72-year-old Paris, who left Pictou County at the age of 18 due to racism, poverty and violence. “I found myself up and writing notes about my life and the racism in New Glasgow, and Pictou County in general.”
Paris admits he didn’t have intentions of writing a book, but when he had two notebooks full of notes, he wondered what he could do with them. That’s when the idea of turning them into a book came to mind.
The book started with notes and research, but the actual writing didn’t begin until January 2019.
He said the book had two missions he wanted to accomplish.
“I wanted it to resonate with the Black people and citizens of my generation and the generations since,” he explained. “I wanted to share the conditions of the Black people in the 1950s and 1960s in Nova Scotia, with an emphasis on Pictou County.”
The second mission, says Paris, was to bring awareness and “somewhat inform the white population or wider population that Nova Scotia and Canada are not this pristine land of freedom for Black people that people know as our national narrative.”
The narrative includes the Underground Railroad, with the height of it being from 1830 to 1860. But, says Paris, the school’s curriculum of the national narrative doesn’t include the fact legal slavery existed in Canada for more than two centuries—from 1628 until 1834.
“That’s 206 years,” said Paris. “Add in another four years before people were actually freed.”
As of 1834, enslaved people could no longer be transported to Canada or Nova Scotia, however people could still own slaves.
“It wasn’t the abolishment of slavery (in 1834), it was the slave trade itself,” Paris noted. “Compare that with 30 years of the Underground Railroad … there’s a big difference. They don’t teach you that.”
In the midst of writing the book, Paris had another title in mind, however felt it wasn’t capturing what he hoped. He was writing about the Jim Crow Laws of the United States when he realized it’s exactly what was happening in Pictou County at the time: Blacks were greatly separated from the whites.
“Then it came to me—Jim Crow also lived here. I had never associated Nova Scotia with Jim Crow and the policies in the States, but then I realized we were living under the same conditions. Black people couldn’t buy a home in a white community. Black people couldn’t step foot in some of those communities, like Pictou, Stellarton, Westville and Trenton without a good chance of being beaten and run out of town.”
Since the book has been published, Paris says he’s received a lot of feedback from people throughout Canada and the United States, many of whom have roots in Nova Scotia. The feedback hasn’t just been from the Black community, but from white people as well.
“A lot say it resonated with them because they were poor also and they talked about how they picked blueberries and dried clothes on the clothesline.”
Those stories, says Paris, also include “but…” and the person then adds they’re white and didn’t experience the violence or racism Paris experienced.
The author admits there were a lot of poor people in the Maritimes in the 1950s and ‘60s, not just Blacks, and there still are many struggling in poverty.
“But being poor and white is different than being poor and Black, or poor and Indigenous, or poor and disabled, or poor and gay or lesbian,” he said.
For anyone wishing to purchase Jim Crow Also Lived Here: Structural Racism and Generational Poverty, Growing up Black in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, more information can be found on Paris’s website, www.jimcrowalsolivedhere.com. For those wishing a signed copy of the book, email Leonard Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org.