New Brunswick Black History Society

Historical Sites

April 16th First Human Rights Protest

April 1916: First Human Rights Protest in New Brunswick History

In 1916, most of Saint John’s Black community took part in protests over the showing of the controversial American movie “The Birth of a Nation,” directed by D.W. Griffith. The film, based on the novel and play The Clansman by Southern writer Thomas Dixon, was released in 1915 and became the top grossing movie of its age.

The historical epic told the story of two families caught up in the turmoil of the American Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction era (1865-77). Because of its negative depictions of African Americans and its portrayal of the Klu Klux Klan as heroes, “The Birth of a Nation” set off a wave of protests in the United States and was banned in some cities and states. It helped grow the membership and profile of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The movie, which began playing in other provinces in 1915, was set to be released in New Brunswick in 1916, the third year of Canada’s involvement in the First World War. As in other provinces, it would be reviewed by the provincial board of censors, which could pass it as is, order certain objectionable scenes to be cut, or censor it completely. Starting in March, the Black community in Saint John, centered on St. Philips African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) church, began to organize to oppose Griffith’s film. It argued that the movie would harm relations between Whites and Blacks and went against Canada’s traditions of British fair play. The protesters also pointed out that New Brunswick Blacks had attempted to volunteer for combat units to fight for Canada and Britain overseas but had been denied. They tried to negotiate with the provincial government to allow the censor board to view the film a second time and consider cutting two objectionable scenes that stereotyped and demeaned Southern Blacks. The board watched the film a second time but “The Birth of a Nation” was displayed at the Opera House on Union Street without any scenes being deleted. (Image of St. Philips AME Church courtesy of Harold Wright )

Black Settlement

The Black Settlement Burial Ground

The Black Settlement Burial Ground, located in Willow Grove, near Saint John, is the site an actual burial ground. The sculpture and church replica placed there in the 1980s commemorates the community of Black Loyalist refugees who lived in the area beginning in the late 18th Century.

       Name                                                  Age                                    Date of Death 

 Boyd, Frederick                                  3 months                              October 15, 1910

 Boyd, Prince Arthur                          11 months                               June 19, 1912               

 Bree, Douglas                                       6 years                                  June 29, 1935

 Bree, Marsha Elizabeth                      76 years                               July 30, 1940

 Cole, Donald H.                                    8 months                              August 29, 1931

 Cooper, Benjamin                               48 years                                November 30, 1927

 Cooper, Francis                                   30 years                                October 22, 1903

 Diggs, Alexander                                52 years                                 April 23, 1917

 Charles Hall, Child of                         2 days                                    January 28, 1910

 Charles Hall, Child of                         stillborn                                March 13, 1911

 Charles Hall, Child of                         1 day                                      May 20, 1917

 Hall, Charles T.                                   4 days                                    June 07, 1921

 Hall, Emily                                           44 years                                January 28, 1922

 Hall, Emily                                           23 years                                May 31, 1934

 Hall, Irene                                            17 years                                 June 28, 1916

 Harrison, Almon                                48 years                                December 31, 1913

 Harrison, Blanch                                10 months                            May 27, 1903

 Harrison, William                               1 year                                     February 09, 1910

 Harrison, Willis                                   2 years                                  June 04, 1903

 Hector, Joseph                                     55 years                               May 09, 1912

 Hill, Rachael J.                                    39 years                                March 03, 1920

 Jackson, George                                  59 years                               December 12, 1892

 Jackson, Mary                                      92 years                               September 07, 1926

 Kennedy, George                                 70 years                               April 28, 1900

 Kennedy, Georges                               52 years                              March 17, 1935

 Kennedy, William                               26 years                              August 24, 1904

 Parrot, Julia                                         75 years                               August 12, 1913

 Roach, Ronald                                     1 month                              June 17, 1943

 Roche, Edward                                    50 years                              June 05, 1939

 Roche, William Percy                         4 months                           November 10, 1921

 Sasso, Anne                                          39 years                              July 22, 1935

 Shears, Joseph W.                              66 years                              February 23, 1941

 Shears, Walter                                     1 year                                   January 05, 1906

 Snead, Bertha                                      89 years                              June 22, 1935

 Snead, John                                         65 years                              November 18, 1922

 Taylor, Daniel                                      50 years                               December 20, 1910

 Thompson, James                              72 years                               December 02, 1935

 Thompson, Hannah                           78 years                              December 21, 1940

 Williams, Freda St. Clair                   20 years                             December 18, 1919

 Williams, Henry John                        Very Old                              December 31, 1925

Grave of the Unknown Black Man

Grave of the Unknown Black Man

Sunday October 20th, 1996 was the day that Mr. Clifford Skinner and Mr. William Titus did the unveiling of the grave site marker for the “Unknown Black Man”. Service was done by: Rev. Warren Brothers, Rev. Anthony Basset & Eulogy – William Titus.

The Story

As it was told to Mr. Skinner, and myself, by Mr. William Titus. He took us to a spot in the cemetery where he said that a coffin was thrown in a snow bank. In the coffin, was an unknown black man. No one seemed to know who he was or where he was from. In the Spring instead of a grave being dug, earth was mounted over the coffin. Years later, after walking through the cemetery, Mr. Titus believed that he found the mound and worked to have a marker placed on the unknown man’s grave so it would never be disturbed. Mr. Titus and Mr. Skinner were the two people that put this story and person to rest. (Story shared online by Ruby Cusack)

St. Peters Anglican Church

St. Peter’s Anglican Church

St. Peter’s Anglican church was originally built in 1838 and consecrated in 1840. It is one of the oldest surviving wooden churches still in continuous use in New Brunswick. Black families from the Spring Hill area were very involved in the church from the beginning, making up about a third of the congregation. They served the church as sextons, members of the choir and gravediggers. The Leek family was among the first Blacks in the area to help build and maintain St. Peter’s Anglican Church. George Leek worked on the structure with his sons George Jr. and William. George Jr. served for many years as Sexton of the Church. This contribution to the church is reflected in its stained-glass windows. (Stained glass photo courtesy of Frank Morehouse)

The Gordon House

The Gordon House

The first permanent memorial to Blacks in New Brunswick, and the first historical house depicting a Black family in Atlantic Canada, is located in King’s Landing Historical Settlement in Fredericton. In the original concept for the development of King’s Landing, it was planned that one home would be the home of an African-Canadian or Black family–that of James Gordon. In the 1960’s, his first home was brought to the site of King’s Landing with the hope of being included in the historical settlement. Unfortunately, the building had deteriorated significantly and could not be restored. Architectural drawings and observations were made of the original structure with plans to reproduce it later. In June of 2009, the James Gordon House, 1835, was officially opened to the public. The Gordon Family held their first family reunion as part of events on opening day.

About James Gordon

James Gordon was born in New Brunswick between 1801 and 1803. While the identity of his parents is currently unknown, it is believed they came to Canada with the Loyalists either as slaves or free Blacks. James married Sarah before 1831. Sarah was born in 1807, according to the 1851 census. James and Sarah were Anglicans as they had their children baptized at Christ Church in Fredericton. Harriet was born in 1832 and James was born in 1835. James built a home for his family on the present Dunn’s Crossing Road in Fredericton, on land that he did not own. In 1858 the owner of the land, the Rev. William Henry Shore, the son of George Shore who was the previous land owner, drew up a detailed lease for Gordon, leasing the property for 14 years. From the wording of the document, it is obvious that Gordon had been living on the land for some time before the lease. James Gordon died of inflammation of the lungs on May 7th, 1864.