Emancipation Day rally pushes for national recognition

A march through Owen Sound in support of Black Lives Matter on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Kirk Scott)

A rally planned for Saturday in Chatham is part of a national movement that aims to put pressure on the federal government to recognize Emancipation Day as a public holiday.

Emancipation Day commemorates the abolishment of slavery by the British Empire, which took place on August 1, 1834.

Rally organizer Thador Tekhli said establishing August 1 as a national holiday is a vital step for recognizing black history in Canada.

“It would be very historical,” he said. “It would address issues when it comes to anti-black racism, getting some black people’s names recognized and just trying to achieve a better, equitable country.”

Tekhli was also one of the organizers of Chatham’s Black Lives Matter Rally in June, which brought over 2,000 people to the city’s core to protest against systemic racism. Similar Black Lives Matter demonstrations were held across the globe following the police-involved death of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minnesota. Floyd, 46, died after being held down by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, who was seen on video pressing his knee onto a prone, handcuffed Floyd.

For Tekhli, now is the perfect time to bring more attention to Emancipation Day and its significance.

“Emancipation Day, what it will do, is it will get the discussion going on getting and helping black communities that have been discriminated in the country for so long and how we can reconcile with the history of that resistance and that discrimination,” he explained.

Tekhli said he’s hopeful that the push to recognize Emancipation Day as a holiday will be a wakeup call for the federal government to address racism in the county and systemic issues as well as understand the country’s involvement in slavery.

If August 1 was declared as a national holiday, Tekhli said he believes that it would inspire progress.

“If it gets recognized that would encourage more black history education in the schools. It would encourage more assistance and trying to increase the roles of diverse communities across the country, and also help increase diversity when it comes to leadership, whether that be corporate or in a public place,” said Tekhli.

In 2008, Ontario formally proclaimed that every year on August 1 would be recognized as Emancipation Day. An act was also created a decade later in 2018 by the Senate of Canada to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day.

However, Tekhli said the push to have it observed as a public holiday has been ongoing for several years in Canada. He added that it’s time for the federal government to follow suit of several other countries where Emancipation Day is a public holiday, including Jamaica, Burmuda and Turks and Caicos.

“International communities are working on it, and we should be working on it,” said Tekhli.

The Chatham Emancipation Day Rally takes place on Saturday at 6 p.m. at BME Freedom Park, located at Wellington Street East and Princess Street South.

According to Tekhli, it will feature guest speakers and music.

“It’s really just to advocate getting this motion passed and to also address anti-black racism and systemic racism,” he explained.

Tekhli is also reminding anyone who attends to wear masks and practice social distancing. Anyone who feels unwell is being asked to stay home and visit the event’s Facebook page for a live stream.