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Martin Luther King Jr.'s View of Canada

It is a deep personal privilege to address a nationwide Canadian audience. Over and above any kinship of U.S. citizens and Canadians as North Americans, there is a singular historical relationship between American Negroes and Canadians.

Canada is not merely a neighbour 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 its 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.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Acknowledgements

The quotation from Martin Luther King Jr is taken from p. 1 of Conscience for Change, published by CBC Learning Systems in 1967 - the printed form of the 1967 Massey Lectures. Reprinted by permission of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.