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When have black newcomers to Canada been most welcome? When there was a shortage of labour, says human rights activist Rocky Jones.

In a presentation to CUPE’s national equity committees, Jones recounted the history of blacks in Atlantic Canada, from the slaves who were brought to Canada in the late 1600s to the Jamaicans who arrived in the late 1700s to the black refugees after the War of 1812.

When there was work to be done and a shortage of hands, black migrants were welcomed “with open arms”, says Jones. But racial attitudes would harden when jobs were scarce. And in the best of times, blacks were settled on poor lands, which they could not own.

The equity committees invited Jones to address them as part of their activities to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. While inclement weather delayed events by one day, the presentation by Jones was a highlight of the committees’ visit to Nova Scotia.

The committees traveled to New Glasgow and Pictou, supporting a Run against Racism that included the participation of marathon runner Henderson Paris, and demonstrating CUPE’s support for the development of the Africentric Heritage Park. As well, representatives of the committees met with Aboriginal elders in Pictou Landing.