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Black United Front of Nova Scotia records come to York University Libraries

By Patti Ryan

York University Libraries are pleased to announce the arrival of a significant collection of microfilmed records from the archives of the Black United Front (BUF) of Nova Scotia. These records complement York University Libraries’ rich and diverse collections of print and electronic material relating to African-Canadian social and political history, and social reform movements. This unique microfilm collection can be found in the Microtext area on the first floor of Scott Library (see the catalogue record).

The Black United Front of Nova Scotia arose from a “family” meeting of over 400 representatives from black communities across the province held in November 1968.  Championed by founding members such as Dr. Burnley “Rocky” Jones, now an internationally recognized lawyer and social justice activist, the BUF began as a grassroots social reform organization that was dedicated to campaigning for black equality and political and economic empowerment. Led in its early years by an Interim Council, the group worked to secure provincial funding and was formally incorporated under the Societies’ Act in 1970. It was later governed by a Provincial Council comprised of elected representatives from black communities throughout Nova Scotia, and formally operated until the mid-1990s.    

Reflecting on the history of the BUF, noted poet, scholar, and former BUF member George Elliott Clarke remarks, “The BUF was born of two contradictory ambitions: 1) the communal need to confront white racism aggressively and campaign for black equality and 2) the governmental desire to blunt black radicalism and revolutionary energy by turning ‘activists’ into social workers. These conflicting aims and mandates led to decades of strife between BUF administrators and members, and between the organization and community interests and non co-opted activists.” Still, says Clarke, “The group served an important ‘change’ agenda, almost despite itself”, and consequently, “no responsible account of black political insurgency during this period can be undertaken without detailed reference to its history.” 

The fifteen microfilm reels of BUF records acquired by York Libraries’ represent a significant portion of the complete BUF records, which remain at the Nova Scotia Archives.  The reels contain a rich and diverse assortment of operational documents created or accumulated by the BUF, including:  minutes of the original BUF Interim Council and the Provincial Council (1970-1995); Board of Directors’ minutes;  correspondence; personal notes; newsletters; financial statements;  annual and quarterly progress reports on programs; and in-house publications such as newsletters and promotional brochures.   

The BUF records offer rich opportunities for researchers and students interested in the complex struggle of African-Nova Scotians (Africadians) and African-Canadians to confront racism and work towards equality and prosperity. Political Science Professor Karen Murray, who worked closely with library staff to help bring the records to the Libraries, notes that this unique acquisition represents an important step in helping York “to become a leader in ensuring that Black history is placed where it should be, at the centre of university curricula.” Murray hopes the acquisition will help to “bring new stories to light, to reveal the pertinence of Black history to contemporary political struggles, and to significantly advance debates about the character of Canadian democracy, past and present.” She encourages researchers and students at all levels to explore this unique collection, and is excited about the potential it offers for both undergraduate and graduate work.  In the words of George Elliott Clarke, “Scholars, dive into this archive: you have nothing to lose but your quietism!”

For more information about this resource, please contact Patti Ryan, political science librarian, (pryan@yorku.ca, x66469).