The Little Black School House

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The Little Black School House: An unflinching look at the heart of racial inequality in Canada

Produced, Written and Directed by Sylvia D. Hamilton, Maroon Films Inc.

Music composed by Joe Sealy, Cinematography by Kent Nason, Edited by John Brett, Sound by Dan Stewart


This one-hour documentary unearths the story of the children, women, men who were students and teachers in Canada’s racially segregated schools. With a vibrant musical score composed by jazz legend, Joe Sealy, it is a poignant and unfailingly honest evocation of the struggle of African Canadians to gain dignity and equality through education. Extraordinary archival film footage, rare photographs, and touching first hand accounts from past students, teachers, historians and community leaders, are interwoven in this unflinching look at the heart of racial inequality in Canada. Shot on location in villages and cities in Ontario and Nova Scotia, the film is a compelling illustration of how many of the students who attended Canada’s all-Black schools look back on the experience with conflicted feelings: fondness for the dedication of their Black teachers, and outrage at being denied a right, fundamental to democracy in Canada: equal access to quality education.

Quotations from the film:

“There was a legal framework that permitted segregated schools.”

Professor Michelle Williams, Director of the Indigenous Black and Miqmaq Law Program, Dalhousie University

“Education was the most important facet of Black life.”

Elise Harding Davis, former curator of the North American Black Historical Museum.

“I remember going through school and thinking how denigrated and embarrassed I was by our books…I wanted to sink under the seat.”                  

Thelma Coward Ince, Community Elder

“I told myself when I become a teacher I’m going to change all these negative things I had to cope with.”

Florence Bauld, Retired teacher


Stories from The Little Black School House by Sylvia D. Hamilton

This article explores the history and memory of Canada’s all-Black segregated schools and the attendant struggle of African Canadians to ensure that their children have access to the full educational opportunities promised by Canadian society. Through advocacy, and a legacy of resistance, and by dint of committed work, teachers, community leaders, and parents fought for many generations to turn the ‘promise’ of freedom into reality.

Canadians can no longer engage in the dance of denial about the misery caused by the forced evacuation of Aboriginal and Inuit children when they were ripped from their families only to be placed in separate, segregated residential facilities, which, while called “schools,” bore little resemblance to the caring, nurturing educational environment this word evokes. Rather, they were locations, sites of memory, where abuse and racism reigned. Why did this happen? In a word: race, the socially, not biologically constructed category that has stratified and negatively affected humans for generations, and what theorist W.E.B. Dubois spoke of when he said, “[t]he problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”1 What is not widely known or remembered is that in two Canadian provinces, because of their race, a large number of African Canadian children were also required by law to attend separate, segregated schools.

Full Article here:

“Hurtful Times Documentary exposes history of Canada’s segregated schools”

“The Little Black Schoolhouse” – by Marie Weeren, Dalhousie News – Dalhousie University

 Video Extracts from a lecture at Simon Fraser University

The Backstory of the Film

Visual Landscape and Film Structure

The Role of Music

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