“A Message to the Public” by A. B. Walker: Adding an overlooked Canadian voice to UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections

An image of the cover page to A Message to the Public by A.B. Walker

Searching for a book to add to UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library, I discovered the intriguing pamphlet “A Message to the Public,” published in New Brunswick in 1905. For a Special Collections Library Management assignment, I argue UBC's RBSC should purchase this rare pamphlet written by one of Canada’s first Black lawyers and civil rights advocates.

Item: Walker, A. B. 1905. A Message to the Public. Saint John, N.B.: Telegraph Book and Job Print.
Link to the rare book dealer's advertisement
Price: CAD $505.61


 

Introduction

A photo of the Black Canadian lawyer A.B. Walker
A.B. Walker, from his publication "A Message to the public". Image courtesy of Special Collections, Vaughan Memorial Library, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

This item is a pamphlet titled "A Message to the Public," written by Abraham Beverley Walker, a Black Canadian lawyer, journalist, and community leader born in 1851 in New Brunswick. It was published in 1905 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The pamphlet describes Walker as the President and Promoter of the African Civilization Movement, and he is introduced as advocating "… for a full measure of justice, right, and equality for all mankind."

Walker received the Order of New Brunswick (posthumous) in 2019 "… for his inspiring achievements as one of Canada's first black lawyers admitted to the bar and for his commitment to civil rights in New Brunswick and across North America."

With a length of 32 pages, the pamphlet is stapled and wrapped in its original blue wrappers. A photo of Walker makes up the frontispiece. The executive of the African Civilization Movement association, including men from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is included as well as a membership form. The bookseller (Alexander Books) describes the pamphlet as in good condition, but with some soiling on the cover and one page missing a corner. The bookseller describes the interior as perfectly clean and the pamphlet as scarce. I found this item in Biblio.com, and its bookseller inventory number is 100215. View catalogue entry at Biblio.

A. B. Walker earned a law degree from the National University in Washington, D.C., was admitted in 1881 as an attorney of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, and was called to the bar the following year (Government of New Brunswick, 2019). Walker received the Order of New Brunswick (posthumous) in 2019 "… for his inspiring achievements as one of Canada's first black lawyers admitted to the bar and for his commitment to civil rights in New Brunswick and across North America" (Government of New Brunswick, 2019).

an image of the cover page of Walker, A. (1905). A message to the public
Walker, A. (1905). A message to the public (CIHM/ICMH Digital series = CIHM/ICMH collection numérisée 88455). Saint John, N.B.: Telegraph Book and Job Print.

 

The fit within RBSC as an institution & its collections

This pamphlet by Walker will help RBSC align better with UBC Library's Strategic Framework. This framework includes three key commitments that will guide improvements at the Library in the coming years (UBC Library, 2019). One of the commitments is "We acknowledge, encourage, and celebrate diverse experiences and perspectives, and we identify and address systemic barriers to inclusion" (UBC Library, 2019). Since this pamphlet presents the perspective of a member of Canadian society who faced systemic barriers during his life and whose contribution to Canadian society was overlooked as a result, including this pamphlet in the collection helps RBSC to reflect better UBC Library's commitment. By including this publication by Walker in the collection, UBC students, researchers, and members of the public will have access to the perspectives of an early Black Canadian community leader and advocate of human rights, a voice that is not prominent in RBSC.

At RBSC, the pamphlet will complement a copy of a patriotic lecture by Walker (Walker, A. B., 1901). With these two publications, RBSC could begin to build a collection of original materials by Walker and other early Black Canadians to diversify the collection of Canadian materials from the era between confederation and WWI. Although "A Message to the Public" is available in microfiche at Koerner Library microforms, this is not easily accessible in format nor due to its cataloguing. The rare, original document at RBSC would do a better job of attracting library users to Walker, enriching the collection while helping to shed some light on an early community leader and member of a marginalized group from Canada's past.

An important step to add more voices of early Black Canadians to UBC RBSC's collection of original historical materials.

RBSC collection of original materials relating to Black Canadians, and particularly from an early period, appears to be meagre. A highlight is American Benjamin Drew's book A North-side View of Slavery. The Refugee: Or, the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, published in Boston in 1856. Another publication is an article written by Isaac Allen Jack in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada titled "The Loyalists and slavery in New Brunswick," published in 1898. Isaac Allen Jack was a white Loyalist settler. Other publications are by Fred Landon, a white Canadian journalist and historian: the articles "In an Old Ontario Cemetery" from the January 1926 issue of the Dalhousie Review, "Social conditions among the Negroes in Upper Canada" [UBC Library catalogue record], and "The work of the American Missionary Association among the Negro refugees in Canada West, 1848-1864" [UBC Library catalogue record]. Purchasing the original pamphlet "A Message to the Public "by Walker would be an important step to add more voices of early Black Canadians to this collection of original historical materials, helping the RBSC collection be more representative of the variety of perspectives that UBC Library's strategic directions call for.

Using A. B. Walker's "A Message to the Public"

This pamphlet could be used to help students in a variety of different UBC programs (including History, Canadian Studies, Law, and English Language and Literature) and scholars studying the medium of pamphlets. It could also be used by historical society members and student groups involved in history, the Black community, or social justice. As well, Christian groups could use it.

Walker's pamphlet could be used in an upper-level history or Canadian studies class that covers issues of race and racism, civil rights, British loyalism, and nationalism in early Canada (e.g., HIST 413/ CDST 350B Imagining the Nation: 19th- and 20th-Century Canada). Viewing the pamphlet in person would contribute to the students' learning experience because they would engage with a primary source material that was written by a Black Canadian expressing his perspective on an issue this course covers, namely the relationship between the concepts of race, ethnicity and nation. Looking at a Canadian publication from over a hundred years ago could get students curious about how Black and other minority Canadians thought about their rights and future in English Canadian society and about their loyalty to the Crown. With the help of the professor to place Walker's writings in their social and historical context, students could consider why the African Civilization movement and its ideal of establishing a nation in Africa appealed to some Blacks in Canada. Through seeing the original pamphlet, students may try to understand issues presented in class from the perspective of Walker. This empathy could lead to some students being more curious about primary source materials from Canadian history available at RBSC.

Undergraduate Law students in the Law and Social Justice Specialization could also visit RBSC to see Walker's pamphlet in person. Since "A Message to the Public" is not a text on the law, I think the students would visit RBSC to view the pamphlet as an extracurricular outing, rather than for a class. I envision the students coming to see Walker's pamphlet in their first semester of joining the Law and Social Justice Specialization. A senior student could bring them and introduce Walker's legal career and the challenges he faced to discuss how racism in the Canadian legal profession kept him from establishing a successful law practice (Bissett, Kevin, 2019).  Seeing Walker's pamphlet up close could help them put themselves in his shoes, feeling empathy for him as a struggling lawyer, and be motivated to succeed as lawyers engaged with social justice issues in their future careers.

How does Walker's writing fit into established notions of early Canadian literature?

English Language and Literature students, upper-level undergraduate and graduate students, could also use Walker's pamphlet. A course on Early Canadian Literature could include a visit to RBSC to view this pamphlet alongside his other publication—Walker, A. B. (1901). Victoria the good: The great and glorious mother of liberty, justice, right, truth and equity, of modern civilization: And the mightiest force for righteousness in the world since the time of Jesus: A lecture—as rare examples of early persuasive writing by someone with a Black Loyalist background. With the help of the professor putting Walkers' writing into historical and cultural context, students could explore how Walker's writing fits into what has been recognised as Canadian literature and culture and think critically about how these have been defined.

Along with UBC students, some scholars may use "A Message to the Public" as well.  Scholars who are researching topics related to those of the essay may not need to view the original pamphlet, however. That said, an exception would be a scholar who is studying turn-of-the-previous-century pamphlets, leaflets, and similar promotional materials and their publication. These researchers could examine Walker's original pamphlet in person, to include material features into their study.

Further, community historical society members and on-campus student groups involved in history, the Black community, or social justice could make use of Walker's pamphlet. I think members of historical societies or from on-campus clubs with interest in civil rights and Black history could use the pamphlet to learn more about an early Canadian advocate of social justice and be motivated by the experience of viewing the primary source document.

Lastly, church groups, theology student groups from Regent College, and UBC Christian student groups active in social justice may use the pamphlet.  Due to Walker's Christian perspective expressed in his writings, these groups could use the pamphlet to learn about an early Canadian advocate of social justice whose ideas were informed by his Cristian faith. Like the secular groups, Walker's pamphlet could inspire them to continue their social justice work, albeit faith-based.

Promoting A. B. Walker's "A Message to the Public"

There are both material and contextual elements to Walker's pamphlet "A Message to the Public" that help it stand out and be marketable to media. I would take advantage of both these in a three-stage marketing campaign to get more visitors into RBSC and to boost RBSC's visibility.  The material element that helps the pamphlet stand out is that it is not just an essay, but an advertisement and recruiting tool for a civil liberties organization. The pamphlet includes a list of the executive along with a membership form.  This functional aspect of the material would allow me to promote it creatively.  To benefit from complimentary events and campaigns in the community and on campus, I would time my campaign with Black History Month (February).

For the first stage of the marketing campaign, I would present the pamphlet as if we were recruiting membership to Walker's association. This would be done in a way where it would be obvious it is not a real recruitment campaign, but rather a lighthearted approach to advertising our new, historical, material—something our audience would hopefully go along with for fun. This mock recruitment campaign would be done over Twitter, Facebook, and with a blog post.  I would include Walker's photo as well as images of the pamphlet's original membership form in the campaign.

The second stage would be more conventional and focus on the contextual elements of the pamphlet that make it marketable. These elements are first that Walker has recently been honoured with the Order of New Brunswick, and second that he was one of the earliest Black Canadian lawyers and dedicated to civil rights, and yet is not well known in Canada.  This second stage would include a longer, more detailed blog post on Walker, his background, achievements, and struggles, the significance of his work and writing to Canadian culture and society, and contextual information about the region and period in which he lived.  This blog post would link to a YouTube video where experts at UBC would introduce Walker and his essay and supply context and analysis.  I would try to recruit experts from different fields and with different specialties, including post-confederation to WWI era Canadian history, the history of Black Loyalists in Canada, anti-racist education, law and social justice, Christianity in Canada, and so on. I would also reach out to Walker's living relatives to see if they would be willing to be interviewed. If they agreed, I would record an audio interview, write another blog post on this, and embed the audio interview. I would promote these blog posts on Twitter and Facebook. I would send out press releases, which will also introduce stage three of our campaign, to traditional media outlets such as local Vancouver newspapers and local CBC radio programs.

Who is British Columbia's Abraham Beverley Walker?

The third stage, drawing inspiration from New Brunswick's honouring of Walker, would focus on finding British Columbia's Abraham Beverley Walker. First, ahead of the campaign start, I would pitch my idea to UBC professors who might be interested, relevant student clubs (e.g. UBC Black Student Union, Law Students' Society, or UBC History Students Association), and community groups (e.g. BC Black History Awareness Society). I would ask them to do some research and nominate a Black British Columbian from B.C.'s history whom they think is comparable to Walker and deserves to be honoured in B.C.. Then I would video them introducing their nominee, comparing their nominee to Walker, and explaining why their nominee should be honoured. I would release these videos on the blog and YouTube, one at a time, over two weeks. I would promote each release over Twitter and Facebook and would also tweet asking for people to nominate British Columbia's A.B. Walker. Hopefully, this third stage would attract the attention of traditional journalists. I will have established good relationships with UBC faculty and would direct media interviews to them as experts.

References

A Message to the Public by Walker, A.B. (Abraham Beverley). (2020). Biblio. https://www.biblio.com/book/message-public-walker-abraham-beverley/d/316629162

Bissett, Kevin. (2019, October 27). Ground-breaking Canadian black lawyer Abraham Beverley Walker to be honoured finally in New Brunswick. Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ground-breaking-canadian-black-lawyer-abraham-beverley-walker-to-be/

Brown, Silas. (2019, October 30). First black Canadian born lawyer posthumously receives Order of N.B. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/6104205/abraham-beverly-walker-order-of-new-brunswick/

Cahill, J. B. (2019). Walker, Abraham Beverley. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol 13. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/walker_abraham_beverley_13E.html

Canadian Studies - UBC. (2020). Core courses CDST 350 and CDST 450. UBC: Canadian Studies Program. http://canadianstudies.ubc.ca/program/core-courses-cdst-350-and-cdst-450/

Drew, Benjamin. (1856). A north-side view of slavery. The refugee: Or, the narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada. Related by themselves, with an account of the history and condition of the colored population of Upper Canada. J.P. Jewett and Company.

Government of New Brunswick. (2019). 2019 Order of New Brunswick recipients. New Nouveau Brunswick. https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/corporate/promo/order_of_new_brunswick/2019_recipients.html#7

Landon, Fred. (1924). The work of the American Missionary Association among the Negro refugees in Canada West, 1848-1864. Paper and Records - Ontario Historical Society, 21.

Landon, Fred. (1925). Social conditions among the Negroes in Upper Canada. Papers and Records - Ontario Historical Society, 22.

Landon, Fred. (1926). In an old Ontario cemetery. Dalhousie Review, January, 523–531.

MacKinnon, Bobbi-Jean. (2019, August 19). 'Righting a wrong': 1st Canadian-born black lawyer named to Order of New Brunswick. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/abraham-walker-first-black-lawyer-saint-john-order-of-new-brunswick-1.5242025

UBC Library. (2019). Library strategic framework. UBC Library. https://about.library.ubc.ca/about-us/strategic-framework/

Walker, A. B. (1905). A message to the public. Telegraph Book and Job Print. [Microfilm]. (CIHM/ICMH Microfiche series, 88455)

Walker, A. B. (1901). Victoria the good: The great and glorious mother of liberty, justice, right, truth and equity, of modern civilization: And the mightiest force for righteousness in the world since the time of Jesus: A lecture. 15.

 

 

 

 

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