By RON FANFAIR
Human rights and social justice activist, Rocky Jones and historian, Dr. James Walker, met for the first time in 1965.
They were participants in a demonstration outside the United States Consulate on University Ave. to support the Selma March organized by the Friends of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee at the University of Toronto.
A few years later when Dr. Walker moved to Jones’ home province – Halifax – to undertake graduate studies at Dalhousie University on the history of Blacks in Nova Scotia, they reconnected and remained close friends until Jones died three years ago.
In 2006, Jones suggested that he along with his associate, Gilbert Daye and Walker should write a book encapsulating the Black Canadian movement and his role in it.
On the day that Jones was scheduled to fly to Muskoka in July 2013 to meet with Walker to review the manuscript and discuss the book’s format and writing responsibilities, he fell ill.
He died less than two weeks later.
Walker, with the help of the family of the deceased, proceeded with the project turning it into Jones’ autobiography that was launched last week in Toronto.
“The result is an important story about an important Canadian, revealing that the idealism of the 60s was not a passing phenomenon, but a factor that continues to influence the lives of many Canadians and our institutions,” said Walker who is a history professor at the University of Waterloo and an Order of Canada recipient. “It will encourage Canadians to consider the implications of citizen engagement with the policies that affect them and it will be of value to lawyers, human rights professionals and non-government organizations. For historians, both academic and public, there will be new insights.”
Walker hopes that Jones’ life will not only be inspiring to Blacks in Canada but every Canadian who deserves to be reminded of how our rights are established and enhanced.
“This book tells the story of a boy who grew up in a protected environment in Truro and then went out into the world, faced discrimination and learned how to confront it and combat it,” he said. “It’s sort of a standard heroic story.”
Dr. George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s parliamentary laureate, wrote the afterword.
“Rocky’s stage was ‘only’ North America, with the Caribbean at hand, not Africa, not Europa, not Asia,” said Dr. Clarke. “But his thought was universal, his outreach was to the world, his compass was his passion and his atlas was all of history. Rocky resembled Malcolm X in this way in that he was tall, autodidact, organic and an orally-oriented intellectual with a world view that was informed by history, but never limited by borders or by schools.
“He was able to think clearly and afresh about ‘local’ issues in Halifax or in Nova Scotia or in Canada, but he always saw their connectedness to international or extraterritorial plights and he tried hard to make his audiences – the people(s) he sought to lead – understand those linkages too.”
Patti Jones said his father would have been proud of the finished product.
“I remember one time after he caught a tuna, we were sitting around the kitchen and he told us he wanted to go after a polar bear and write his life story,” said his son who attended the launch. “This is something he would definitely be very pleased with.”
Dr. Denise Gillard, a niece of Jones, predicts the autobiography will be a highly sought after book.
“One of the things with Canadian Black stories is they are left untold,” she said. “My uncle made huge contributions, not only to Nova Scotia but Canadian society. I work with young people and one of the things we struggle to do is help them locate their own story in our society. This book gives them a story to connect with.”