‘Canada Is Not Merely a Neighbor To Negroes’
The Massey Lectures was created in 1961. It’s an annual five-part series of lectures given in Canada by a noted scholar. The name is derived from the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada, Vincent Massey. The series allowed said, scholar, to speak on important subjects relevant to the times. The Massey Lecturers have included many famous people, Martin Luther King Jr being one of them. The theme for Martin Luther King Jr’s lectures was titled “Conscience For Change.” Below is an excerpt from his lectures. Martin Luther King Jr articulates his feelings about the country that shares its borders with the United States and its impact. He would die 5 months later.
Canada is not merely a neighbor to Negroes. Deep in our history of struggle for freedom Canada was the north star. The Negro slave, denied education, de-humanized, imprisoned on cruel plantations, knew that far to the north a land existed where a fugitive slave if he survived the horrors of the journey could find freedom. The legendary underground railroad started in the south and ended in Canada. The freedom road links us together. Our spirituals, now so widely admired around the world, were often codes. We sang of “heaven” that awaited us and the slave masters listened in innocence, not realizing that we were not speaking of the hereafter. Heaven was the word for Canada and the Negro sang of the hope that his escape on the underground railroad would carry him there. One of our spirituals, Follow the Drinking Gourd, in it’s disguised lyrics contained directions for escape. The gourd was the big dipper, and the north star to which its handle pointed gave the celestial map that directed the flight to the Canadian border. So standing today in Canada I am linked with the history of my people and its unity with your past.
Martin Luther King Jr. 1967 Massey Lectures