His family was banned from a Toronto roller skating club for being Black. He fought back in court

Note from our history:

Before Viola Desmond refused to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia theatre and Hugh Burnett led sit-ins at restaurants unwilling to serve Black customers, a barber in Toronto pushed back against racial intolerance.

During the first decade of the 20th century, a roller-skating craze swept North America. Rinks sprang up in cities across the continent and Toronto was no exception. Citizens had several options including Victoria Rink on Huron Street and Granite Club Roller Rink at 519 Church. Roller skating appealed to all ages. The craze was so popular sporting goods stores quickly ran short of skates. Participants were required to rent skates from rinks. Ads placed in newspapers by competing arenas boasted “Strictly select patronage.”

The Taylors lived in a home in the shadow of St. James Cathedral on Francis Street. On a cool November evening in 1906, Arthur Taylor, 12, and his mother, Lydia, dressed against the chill and boarded a Toronto Railway Co. streetcar for the short ride north to the Granite Club, a forerunner of the city’s current Granite Club. After purchasing tickets and entering, they queued up to rent skates. Before they could join the crowd on the floor, however, an attendant instructed by management informed them they were unwelcome because they were Black.

Mother and son returned home humiliated.

The Granite Club chose the wrong family to discriminate against. Arthur’s father, the successful barber Armistead Pride Taylor, refused to take the slight lying down. Incensed, Taylor rushed to the courthouse at city hall and issued a civil claim for $50 in damages.

Armistead Taylor was born a freeman of colour in Virginia in 1845. After visiting an aunt in Toronto in 1870, she convinced him to settle here. Prior to the move, he wed Lydia Hegetscweiler in Virginia and relocated north of the border with his new wife.

The newlyweds initially resided in Yorkville, where Taylor opened a barbershop. Within a decade, he earned a reputation for challenging social norms. Fined two dollars for violating the Lord’s Day Act — Taylor shaved a customer on a Sunday — he won the case on appeal.

Taylor descendant Paul de la Rosa of Toronto is familiar with his ancestry but remained unaware of the specific indignity experienced by his great-grandmother and great-uncle.

What does de la Rosa suppose gave his great-grandfather confidence to challenge the WASP establishment? De la Rosa speculates, “Being considered freeborn in a time of slavery gave him hope for a better life. His move from the States to Canada was also part of that. Self-esteem, pride, and a determination not to go backwards … probably were driving forces. Along with some rage!”

The Taylor family eventually grew to 10 children. By then the barber had standing in the community. He opened the first bathhouse in Yorkville and managed barbershop facilities at the Queen’s Hotel. A talented musician, he was a member of local marching bands.

Lydia and Armistead valued education for their children. Those who survived into adulthood would pursue higher education, going on to make valuable contributions in the fields of medicine and law, in Canada as well as south of the border.

Judge Frederick Morson heard the case before Christmas 1906. With a reputation for fairness, the magistrate was known to dispense swift justice. The defence was mounted by Edward Bayly, a skilled lawyer later appointed deputy attorney general to the province of Ontario.

Hotelier Abram Orpen, a former bookie with previous run-ins with authorities, managed the rink. In years to come, Orpen would establish Dufferin Park Racetrack. The successful venture led Orpen to open additional horse tracks throughout the province. As his wealth and influence grew, he became a friend to politicians and a favourite son of the city.

At trial, the lawyer representing the Granite Club claimed the recreational and social club was not liable for damages since Orpen leased the rink from them for his own purposes.

From the witness box, Armistead Taylor surmised staff initially permitted his light-skinned wife and son entrance assuming they were white. For his part, Orpen unabashedly testified ordering mother and son from the rink after discovering they were Black. Upon hearing arguments, Judge Morson admitted never having adjudicated a race-based case such as this. Court was adjourned to allow his honour to examine Canadian jurisprudence and case precedents.

Two weeks later a decision was rendered. In a challenge against the WASP establishment of the day, a verdict in the Taylors’ favour seemed unlikely. Win or lose, Taylor would not tolerate the indignity afforded his wife and son.

He refused to back down and his tenacity paid off. This doggedness doesn’t surprise de la Rosa. It runs in the family. “I attended a large family reunion many years ago,” he explained, “During this reunion, I actually saw a bill of sale for one of my ancestors that had bought himself! It seemed that that determination and drive was alive then, and was passed down.”

Judge Morson’s judgment read, “In this country nobody has a right to subject anybody to indignities because of his colour. Be a man or woman coloured … he or she is entitled to respect and protection.” Reflective of the times, however, he stated that if management intended to deny entry based on skin colour, a notice should have been conspicuously posted.

The judge denied Taylor’s claim for punitive damages but ordered the Granite Club to reimburse the ticket cost.

What effect the small victory had on young Arthur is impossible to say but it is worth noting, after completing his education in Toronto, the young man attended Lincoln University in Philadelphia and then Yale to study law. He would become assistant district attorney for the District of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Why isn’t the Taylor victory widely known? De la Rosa ponders. “How many know that Toronto once had a Black mayor?” (William Peyton Hubbard, elected Toronto’s first Black alderman in 1894, served as acting mayor on several occasions.) There were schools and streets named after prominent Black leaders in the community that have quietly had their names changed over time, and those stories have been lost to history as well.”

Source: His family was banned from a Toronto roller skating club for being Black. He fought back in court

Atlanta Will Add Context About Racism to Historic Monuments

I have always preferred this approach, providing context and using monuments as a means to increase understanding, rather than tearing them down or renaming:

Atlanta will soon add some lessons about the South’s racist history on markers placed next to four historic monuments amid the ongoing national debate over Confederate statues.

The first of the panels could be installed as early as Friday, officials said.

In Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, the 1911 Peace Monument commemorating post-Civil War reconciliation will get context noting that its inscription promotes a narrative centered on white veterans, while ignoring African Americans.

Many white Southerners viewed the American Civil War through “the lens of Lost Cause mythology” following the defeat of Confederate forces.

“That mythology claimed that despite defeat, the Confederate cause was morally just,” states the marker to be placed near the Peace Monument.

“This monument should no longer stand as a memorial to white brotherhood; rather, it should be seen as an artifact representing a shared history in which millions of Americans were denied civil and human rights,” it states.

Georgia law bars the removal of such monuments. Other states with laws protecting Confederate monuments include Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The project puts the city ahead of other communities grappling with what to do about their monuments, Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale says.

“It’s telling the truth, and it’s also giving people an opportunity to have a discussion around facts,” Hale said. “The goal is to start a community discussion.”

States, cities and universities across the country began debating whether to remove Confederate statues after self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, during the summer of 2015. Roof had posted pictures of himself with a Confederate battle flag on social media.

A violent rally involving white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 added more fuel to the nationwide examination of Confederate monuments.

A few days after the Charlottesville rally, protesters sprayed red paint on Atlanta’s Peace Monument. Statues in other cities have also been vandalized in recent years.

One hope in Atlanta is that adding context in the form of the markers “will take some of the oxygen — the accelerant — out of the room” and make it less likely that statues will be vandalized, Hale said.

Another of the new Atlanta markers will be placed near a monument erected in 1935 to commemorate the Battle of Peachtree Creek. It notes that the statue’s inscription describes the U.S. after the Civil War as “a perfected nation.”

“This ignores the segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans and others that still existed in 1935,” the marker states.

Other Atlanta markers will be placed near two monuments in the city’s historic Oakland Cemetery: The “Lion of Atlanta” monument and the Confederate Obelisk.

The Atlanta History Center has developed a Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide to add historical perspective to such statues, Hale said. He’s hoping Atlanta’s efforts to add context can be used to guide other communities as they decide whether what to do with their own monuments.

“I think in a lot of cases once people see the power of contextualization, some people might decide they’d like to keep them there as a way to show how far we’ve come, or the journey that we’ve had, and explain what was going on at the time they were erected,” Hale said.

Source: Atlanta Will Add Context About Racism to Historic Monuments

Singapore — history haunts the ultra-modern state

Nice long read, similar to some of the debates regarding Canadian historical features:

From Cape Town to San Francisco, cities have been toppling monuments to historical figures with troubling legacies. In Singapore, authorities have opted for a more genteel way of dealing with the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British colonialist who in 1819 chose the tiny island as the East India Co.’s new regional base.

They are diluting the imperialist’s prominence by erecting for the year four new statues of Asian pioneers near Raffles.

The government is commemorating the bicentennial of Raffles’s landing with a yearlong pageantry of exhibitions, essays and events (there may even be a national election).

It is a means to interrogate Singapore’s rich but oft-overlooked pre-independence history. Yet the process involves risks — it exposes some inherent contradictions about a global city’s identity, as interpreted by a heavy-handed state.

Compared with India and most other former British colonies, independent Singapore has always had a romantic view of colonialism. The country’s most famous hotel and school are named after Raffles. In 2015, when UNESCO designated Singapore’s Botanic Gardens as the country’s first and still only World Heritage site, it was remarkable because rarely does a post-colonial state nominate a colonial landmark rather than an indigenous relic.

Four statues of Asian pioneers were erected near Raffles in January. (Courtesy of Singapore Bicentennial Office)

Colonialism’s Singaporean fans suggest that the modern city has thrived partly because of its legacies, including the English language, common law and the port, still one of the busiest in the world.

Critics say that colonialism was fundamentally corrupt and exploitative, pointing to some debilitating vestiges of the era, such as lingering racial biases and a neoliberalism that excessively benefits the owners of capital and land at the expense of workers.

Three of the four pioneers whose images now grace the new plinths thrived under British rule in the 1800s. They are Munshi Abdullah, a Malay-language author and translator, who was of Arab-Tamil ancestry but was accepted into the Malay community; Indian businessman Narayana Pillai; and Chinese merchant Tan Tock Seng.

The fourth is Sang Nila Utama, a visiting Srivijayan prince who in 1299 bestowed the Sanskrit name Singa-pura, or lion city. His inclusion reflects a grander aim. Singapore is using the bicentennial not simply to reconsider its colonial past, but to stretch its history back by a further 500 years. Singapore’s popularly recognized history is, in other words, going from two centuries to seven. A society hitherto obsessed with the future is waking up to the power of the past.

As somebody born into an ethnic Indian family and brought up in Singapore in the 1970s, I see this as an ambitious effort that could help Singaporeans, often caricatured as unmoored economic digits, better understand our place in this world. It will, for one, serve as a reminder of Singapore’s centrality to the Malay world, and Southeast Asia at large.

That could in turn prompt further scrutiny of The British Empire. For even if Singapore’s colonial experience was relatively mild, horrors were never far away. In 1812, for instance, Raffles led British and Indian soldiers in a violent sacking of the royal palace of Yogyakarta (some of his spoils are on display at an even-handed new exhibition at Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum, held in conjunction with the British Museum).

Meanwhile, even as merchant Pillai was moving to Singapore with Raffles and building a successful career under the British, thousands of his fellow Tamils were being indentured by the British for backbreaking work on plantations in Fiji, Mauritius and Malaya.

Singapore, then, as a trading hub of the British Empire, was the varnished administrative center, a glittering front that sheltered its inhabitants from tragedies elsewhere.

Today, Singaporean society is coming to terms with its potential complicity in contemporary global nefarious activities. This includes serving as a corporate hub for unscrupulous palm-oil companies engaging in land grabs in Indonesia; a transshipment point for the illegal trafficking of humans and wildlife; and a tax haven for multinationals and millionaires alike. “The Switzerland of the East” is growing a conscience. A broader understanding of Singapore’s role in the British Empire’s global network will help in that maturation.

Critics wail that the bicentennial pomp is nothing but a cynical ploy by the ruling People’s Action Party to energize citizens ahead of a possible general election. Yet it is not clear how a richer historical appreciation might affect the PAP’s modern standing. The PAP’s enduring creation myth is that it miraculously transformed Singapore from a “fishing village” in the 1960s to a modern metropolis by the 1990s. “From swamp to skyscrapers,” screamed a fawning BBC tribute to Singapore in 2015, on the anniversary of its independence.

Yet just months after Raffles landed, people were flocking to the fast-growing trading colony. “Merchants from every country came to trade,” wrote Abdullah of early 1800s Singapore. “But they did not care so much to do business as they did to see the new town.”

St. Andrew’s School, which I attended, was founded in 1862. In the 1950s, Singapore was already no swamp but one of Asia’s most well-developed and multicultural cities.

The bicentennial commemorations should finally bust the fishing village myth, indicating that the PAP in 1959 took over a bustling, multicultural port well-positioned to capitalize on East Asia’s industrial boom. This could rub some of the sheen off the party’s (nonetheless impressive) legacy.

Any reassessment of colonial misdeeds could also lead to an exploration of potential post-colonial injustices, most notably the numerous alleged communists imprisoned without trial by the PAP, in an intermittent campaign (inherited from the British) that lasted from the 1960s well into the 1990s, when the last prisoner was released. For the PAP, it may be tricky urging the electorate to scrutinize only the British legacy — but not its own.

The new statues are also a reflection of the PAP’s dogmatism in codifying identity and organizing society through an unchanging racial lens, known colloquially as CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, others). In a system derived from colonial-era classifications, every Singaporean is ascribed by age 15 one of the four “races,” which then determines what second language the person can learn in public school and in which neighborhood they can purchase public housing, among other things.

The four pioneers chosen each belong to one of the three major ethnic groups in the country while Raffles himself is the representative of that amorphous “others” category, which includes everybody from Armenians to Yemenis.

It is a reminder that state-ordained representation was a bigger consideration in erecting the four states than fame. After the unveiling in January this year, Singaporeans rushed to Google “Munshi Abdullah” and “Narayana Pillai,” the respective Malay and Indian figures we now have to commemorate. Few knew who they were.

Yet any effort to comprehensively represent identities in a global city is doomed to fail. Almost immediately, women complained about their exclusion from the all-male statuary. Today, Singapore is home to scores of ethnicities, each splashing their own color onto the city’s always-somewhere-between-Asia-and-the-West palette.

Moreover, the multicultural dogmas of CMIO do not gel with the reality of Chinese predominance, say critics. The PAP recently chose its next leader — and thus Singapore’s probable next prime minister — from a longlist comprised of six ethnic Chinese men. (Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the immensely popular Indian deputy prime minister, was the notable exclusion).

Singapore’s stated immigration policies, meanwhile, give preference to ethnic Chinese migrants to ensure the group always retains its supermajority, currently over 70% of the population of 5.5 million.

All of this reflects the ethnic determinism of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, who said that Singapore’s success was due to the fact that the majority of its people are Chinese who are “practical,” in contrast with Indians, who “believe in the politics of contention.” He separately noted that Malays are “not as hardworking and capable as the other races.”

Under the British, Singapore thrived as a free port where, as evidenced by Abdullah, Pillai and Tan, a person of any color could succeed — as long as they did not challenge white rule. The PAP is, in some ways, the colonialists’ natural successor.

Ethnic nationalists everywhere might draw succor from the paradox of a global city run meticulously along racial lines by a dominant group.

Nevertheless, history is not destiny. Many younger Singaporeans yearn for the day when race and gender (and sexual orientation) no longer matter, and society strives to protect the downtrodden as much as it elevates the elites.

If and when that comes, perhaps Raffles will be joined not by just four other men on the Singapore River but by dozens of figures representing the city’s many hues.

Source: Singapore — history haunts the ultra-modern state

Fact-checking immigration: Boustan uses big data to explore myths about the past

Some interesting work here:

“When the horns started to blow and we saw the Statue of Liberty, I thought I was in heaven. Really. She’s up there and saying, ‘Come on in. From now on you are a free person.’”

These are the words of Turkish immigrant John Alabilikian, who came to the United States in 1922, collected by the Ellis Island Foundation in 1985 as part of its oral history library. In his interview, Alabilikian described escaping the Armenian genocide and journeying to America.

Personal anecdotes like these serve as a rich source of data for economist Leah Platt Boustan, who brings modern statistical analysis and big-data tools to the study of historical events and trends. With the recent digitization of first-person accounts and other documents, Boustan can uncover insights from people’s personal experiences in ways previously not possible. “It’s almost as if we can conduct surveys of people who lived in the past,” she said.

Statue of Liberty with quote from Leah Boustan, Professor of Economics; “Many people imagine that [19th-century] immigrants from Europe very quickly climbed the economic ladder and adopted U.S. behavior norms, and that immigrants today are slower to do so. That’s not the case.”

Boustan, who joined Princeton as a professor of economics in 2017, has an impressive record of proving and disproving ideas that people believe based on anecdotes or “gut feelings.” In the past, economists and historians had few data tools, but with today’s powerful computers and mathematical approaches, historical perspectives can be tested against hard numbers.

“Often what we think we know, we don’t really know,” Boustan said. “If you start to introspect, and ask, ‘Where do my beliefs come from?’ you might realize they come from your family’s experience or from relatively few anecdotes. We rarely test our beliefs with thousands of cases.” Boustan tries to rediscover that lost nuance, giving economists and historians a statistical footing for their research.

One of the questions Boustan has tackled is the issue of “white flight.” Between 1940 and 1970, white Americans left cities in large numbers, but historians have debated whether this exodus was motivated by the desire to pursue opportunities in suburbs or because of an influx of black Americans. Boustan’s analysis, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2010 when she was on the faculty at the University of California-Los Angeles, suggests that both were true.

Another of Boustan’s recent projects is on the age of mass migration, a period from around 1850 to about 1920, when more than 30 million Europeans moved to the United States. Working with longtime collaborators Ran Abramitzky at Stanford University and Katherine Eriksson at the University of California-Davis, and with support from the National Science Foundation, Boustan compared historical data to today’s records, asking: Are immigrants today assimilating more slowly than they did in the past?

“Many people imagine that immigrants from Europe very quickly climbed the economic ladder and adopted U.S. behavior norms, and that immigrants today are slower to do so,” Boustan said. “That’s not the case.”

Crowds on 19th century immigrant ships

Leah Boustan, professor of economics, uses digitized historical records and other sources — like this 1906 photograph of immigrants on an Atlantic liner — to give researchers a statistical footing for studies on immigration, past and present.

Prior work suggested that European immigrants during the age of mass migration were paid less than native-born workers upon first arrival, but then quickly caught up. Boustan and her collaborators tracked the occupations of 21,000 natives and immigrants over two decades, and, in work published in 2014 in the Journal of Political Economy, showed that this common wisdom does not fit the facts in two different ways. Many recently arrived immigrant groups did not have lower earnings than natives and, overall, the income of immigrants and natives rose at close to the same rate.

Slow rates of economic assimilation are consistent with the experiences of recent immigrants, according to studies by other researchers, Boustan said. “There is nothing special — or necessarily alarming — about economic convergence that takes more than one generation,” Boustan said. “We have been there before.”

One measure of cultural assimilation that Boustan looked at was how immigrants named their children. Because selecting a child’s name costs nothing, and thus is independent of socio-economic status, Boustan argued that names indicate a family’s eagerness to adopt American culture. In work supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, she and her colleagues used millions of entries from recently digitized census records to calculate a “foreignness index” for each name in the early 1900s. She conducted a similar exercise using birth certificate records from California today. In both cases, she found that immigrants shift away from foreign-sounding names as they spend more time in their adopted nation, and at the same rate.

“What was striking about those two sets of analyses — the past and present — is that the speed of cultural assimilation, by this measure, is almost identical in the past and present,” Boustan said. The study is detailed in an NBER Working Paper posted in July 2016.

Boustan’s work is part of a growing trend in economics toward harnessing large data sets to explain historical observations, said her colleague and former mentor, Henry Farber, Princeton’s Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics. Farber met Boustan when she was an undergraduate at Princeton in the late 1990s. Boustan later earned a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 2006 and then became a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Today, Boustan’s office is only a few doors down from Farber, who is next door to his own dissertation adviser, Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics — three generations of empirical economics in one hallway. “Princeton is lucky to have her on the faculty,” Farber said.

Boustan is also part of the trend toward increasing female participation in a historically male-dominated discipline. When a leading journal recently asked her how the field might attract and train more women, she was caught off guard. “I realized that I didn’t know much about the overall situation of women in economics — I only knew anecdotes from my personal experiences,” Boustan said.

So she began investigating the problem with her characteristic big-data approach. “It is a very important question, and the best way to work on big questions is to take a look at the data,” she said.

She paired with graduate student Andrew Langan to collect data on the male-female graduate student ratios in economics departments at leading research universities and learn more about why some programs have more success than others in training women. Graduate programs in economics are on average 30 percent female across the nation, with some as low as 10 percent female and others achieving a 50-50 balance, Boustan and her team found.

“The average picture looks gloomy, but there are some bright rays,” Boustan said. For example, even departments with high numbers of male students and faculty can serve female students well if they provide opportunities for training and mentoring, they found.

Boustan keeps this in mind as she mentors and advises students in Princeton’s economics department. One advisee, Ji Won Choi, said, “I hope I can be an example, like Leah, for others in the future.”

Until recently, Princeton’s Department of Economics had few women in senior faculty positions, but the department has doubled its number of female faculty members over the past four years, said Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, who was department chair until June 2018. “Nevertheless,” Currie said, “we are not where we would like to be, and we’ll need continuous effort not to lose the gains we have made and to diversify the faculty and student body in other dimensions.”

With so many charged topics facing society today, from the equitable treatment of women in the workplace to the role of immigrants in building the nation, Boustan’s data-driven approach to controversial issues is more relevant than ever. To explain the importance of this work, Boustan quotes her former mentor, the Harvard economic historian and labor economist Claudia Goldin: “The best historical questions are the ones that speak to the world we live in today.”

Source: Fact-checking immigration: Boustan uses big data to explore myths about the past

Animation: Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration

Great animation and charts:


America is a nation of immigrants, and though the country has seen a lot of new arrivals over the past two centuries, the rate of immigration has been far from steady.

War, famine, economic boom and bust, religious persecution, and government intervention have all caused wild swings in the rate of immigration from countries around the world.

Today’s striking animation, by Max Galka, is a great way to see changes in immigration over time. Inflows from specific countries rise and fall, and the top three countries of origin change numerous times over the years.

Below, is another way to look at the ebb and flow of American immigration since the early 1800s.

U.S. Immigration Charts
An important note. This data excludes forced migration (slavery) and illegal immigration.

Let’s look at the “waves” in more detail.


From 1820 to 1870, over 7.5 million immigrants made their way over to the United States, effectively doubling the young country’s population in only half a decade.

Ireland, which was in the throes of the Potato Famine, saw half its population set sail for the U.S. during that time. This wave of immigration can still be seen in today’s demographics. There are now more Irish-Americans than there are Irish nationals.

The magnetic pull of the New World was profoundly felt in Germany as well. Growing public unrest in the region, caused by heavy taxation and political censorship, culminated in the German revolutions of 1848-49. Faced with severe hardship at home, millions of Germans made their way to America over the 1800s. It’s estimated that one-third of the total ethnic German population in the world now lives in the United States.


Much of America’s early immigration was from various points in Europe, but there was one prominent exception: China.

The discovery of gold in California inspired Chinese workers to seek their fortune in America. After a crop failure in Southern China in 1852, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants flooded into San Francisco.

Although the State of California was making millions of dollars off its Foreign Miners Tax, sentiment towards Chinese workers began to sour. Gold mines were being tapped out and white Californians blamed the Chinese for driving wages down.

Chinamen are getting to be altogether too plentiful in this country.

– John Bigler, Governor of California (1852-1856)

By 1882, the newly enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act had a chilling effect on Chinese immigration. The Exclusion Act has the dubious distinction of being the only American law barring a specific group from immigrating to the United States.


The wave of immigration leading into the 20th century is referred to as The New Immigration.

In 1890, Ellis Island was designated as the main point of entry for newcomers entering the United States. In 1907 alone, Ellis Island processed a staggering 1,285,349 immigrants. To put this number in perspective, if all of those people settled in one place, they would’ve formed America’s fourth largest city almost overnight.

This massive influx of people into New York had profound implications on the city itself. In 1910, Manhattan’s population density was an astronomical 101,548 humans per square mile.

The immigrants arriving during this period – heavily represented by Italians, Hungarians, and Russians – were seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. Certain industries, such as steel, meat-packing, and mining, were staffed by many new arrivals to the country.

During this time, one in four American workers were foreign-born.


The National Origins Act’s quota system, which took effect in 1929, essentially slammed the door on most immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Shortly after, the Great Depression further put a damper on immigration that would last well into the 20th century.


After decades of sluggish immigration, the United States’ percentage of foreign-born citizens reached a low of 4.7% in 1970. But that was all about to change.

During the next decade, the number of states where Mexico was the top country of origin doubled in a single decade, and Mexicans became the dominant foreign-born population in the country. This migration was fueled by the Latin American debt crisis and later by NAFTA. The influx of cheap corn into Mexico caused hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from rural areas to search for more favorable economic opportunities. America was the obvious choice, particularly during the economic expansion of the 1990s.

U.S. Hispanic Population Map

This wave of immigration has shifted the country’s demographics considerably. Today, nearly one in five people in the United States are Hispanic.


Immigration trends are continually evolving, and America’s newest immigrants are often more likely to come from China or India. In fact, both countries surpassed Mexico as countries of origin for immigrants arriving in the U.S. in 2013. Today, the trend is even more pronounced.

us immigration top 5

Recent immigration numbers indicate that Asian immigrants will continue to shift America’s demographics in a new direction. Perhaps a new wave in the making?

via Animation: Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration

Langevin, Ryerson, Cornwallis: Is our past unfit for the present? – Peter Shawn Taylor

More good commentary by Peter Shawn Taylor (The case for keeping ‘Langevin Block’ – Peter Shawn Taylor, Begbie’s Statue – Bill McKee) and useful citing of historian Witt’s test questions on renaming:

Yale University has long wrestled with similar complaints about Calhoun College, named for benefactor John C. Calhoun, a U.S. senator from South Carolina and outspoken proponent of slavery during the pre-Civil War era. Last year, Yale asked historian John Fabian Witt to resolve the controversy. His response was a unique series of questions meant to gauge the validity of renaming demands. It’s a first stab at a coherent, standardized system for settling commemoration disputes, and other U.S. institutions have quickly grasped its significance. Last month, the University of Mississippi employed Prof. Witt’s test in removing some controversial names from its campus, while letting other remain. In the absence of anything similar in Canada, we should adopt the Witt test to settle our own namesake dilemmas.

Prof. Witt begins with the overarching principal that name changes should be considered “exceptional events” and not frivolous or political acts. “Renaming has often reflected excessive confidence in moral orthodoxies,” he observes, pointing with caution to the Soviet Union. Then again, not every urge to rename is Orwellian: post-Apartheid South Africa or post-Nazi West Germany, for example.

To decide what deserves to be removed and what should stay, the Witt test applies four questions, modified here for domestic use, that weigh the actions and time periods of commemorated individuals.

  • First: Is the principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with Canadian values? This requires a broad understanding of the life’s work of the individual in question.
  • Second: Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested during the namesake’s lifetime? Isolated statements or actions considered controversial today may have been conventional wisdom at the time. Context matters.
  • Third: At the time of the naming, was the namesake honoured for reasons fundamentally at odds with Canadian values? Why was this person commemorated?
  • Finally: Does the building play a substantial role in forming community? The more prominent the edifice, the greater the casefor retaining names of historical significance, Prof. Witt says.

Using the Witt test, Yale announced in February the removal of Mr. Calhoun’s name. White supremacy, it concluded, was his principal legacy. Mr. Calhoun claimed slavery was “a positive good” and that the Declaration of Independence erred in stating all men are created equal. For this, he was criticized in his own time and today.

Applying these same standards to Mr. Langevin, however, yields a different result. As an important French-Catholic Conservative federalist in the Confederation era, Mr. Langevin’s principal legacy was building a bicultural Canada, something once considered a great virtue in this country. This is why his name was placed on an important building in Ottawa. Though his name is today often paired with residential schools, Mr. Langevin was primarily involved with constructing the buildings, not championing the policies. The infamous speech he gave in Parliament on the subject was actually parroting what his boss – Sir John A. Macdonald – had said days earlier. While his comments are grating to modern ears, he was merely repeating widely accepted views from his time. The Witt test exonerates Mr. Langevin.

The legacies of Mr. Begbie, Mr. Ryerson, Mr. Cornwallis and the rest of Canada’s historically accused deserve a fair trial as well.

Source: Langevin, Ryerson, Cornwallis: Is our past unfit for the present? – The Globe and Mail

The case for keeping ‘Langevin Block’ – Peter Shawn Taylor, Begbie’s Statue – Bill McKee

I agree with Taylor on the risks of ignoring the historical context and focusing only on one aspect of their role in Canadian society. Those who forget (or erase) history, are condemned to repeat it, albeit with twists. McKee’s point on interpretative panels is a better way:

Taken on its own, Langevin’s quotation is a devastating indictment to modern ears. But what if we let the tape roll a bit longer? Later in that same speech, for example, Langevin said it was his intention to give every native child who graduates from residential school a free homestead. And in response to Langevin, Edward Blake, the leader of the Liberal party of the day, not only used words to describe Indigenous men and women that would be considered horrific today, he also complained that Ottawa’s plan was overly generous. The Liberal party of the day wanted to spend far less on the native file.

Extreme narrow focus on a few sentences of one speech may provide damning evidence of Langevin’s unfitness for present-day memorialization. But in the context of his time, Langevin actually stands among the more enlightened representatives of the federal government. As for the accusation that Langevin believed in assimilation of the Indigenous community—a concept now properly and universally considered abhorrent—he is guilty as charged.

But assimilation was conventional wisdom among all elite thinkers of his era. If statements in support of it are to be considered sufficient reason for removal from the historical record, then every politician of note in Canada prior to the 21st century must eventually be struck from the record—from Macdonald to Sir Wilfrid Laurier on down. Even Pierre Trudeau, often considered the father of an inclusive, multicultural Canada, was a confirmed assimilationist. His 1969 White Paper on “Indian Policy” planned to eliminate Indigenous status entirely. When such a plan was firmly rejected by the Indigenous community, Trudeau replied bitterly, “We’ll keep them in the ghetto for as long as they want.” Is the legacy of Trudeau senior next on the list for erasure?

And entirely ignored within the current debate over Langevin and the residential school issue is his stature as a key Francophone Quebec federalist during the crucial pre-Confederation era, which was the reason his name ended up on a federal building in the first place. Reconciliation between French and English was once considered a great Canadian virtue. It should still count for something today.

As for Cornwallis, in 1749 he did declare a bounty of 10 British guineas for every Mi’kmaq scalp delivered to him during a colonial-era conflict known as Father Le Loutre’s War. Like Langevin’s speech on residential schools, singular attention on this one act seems sufficient to declare him unfit for present-day consumption. By any standard, scalping is an horrific act. But once again history throws up some uncomfortable facts.

Father Le Loutre’s War (1749 to 1755) was the handiwork of French Catholic priest Jean-Louis Le Loutre, who goaded local Mi’kmaq tribes into conflict with the British in hopes of reclaiming New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for the French. For added motivation, he explicitly promised to pay Mi’kmaq warriors a bounty for English scalps. And they delivered. In 1753, for example, Le Loutre was reimbursed 1,800 French livres by the colonial government in Quebec City for sums he paid to the Mi’kmaq for 18 English scalps.

The payment of scalp bounties was unsettlingly common throughout North America during the entire colonial period. It was, in fact, standing French policy to offer payments for the scalps of the English—men, women and children—as a subsidy to ensure the continued loyalty of allied Indigenous tribes. Scalp bounties in the English-speaking colonies generally only appeared when a war was on; and their value waned and fluxed depending on the public’s panic level. It thus seems unfair to use Cornwallis’s scalping proclamation as conclusive evidence against him when both sides in this ancient conflict, including those Mi’kmaq nations who today demand Cornwallis’s expulsion from the public square, were fully engaged in the repulsive tactic.

And while Amherst is widely considered to be the father of modern germ warfare for allegedly handing out smallpox-infected blankets to Indigenous foes, this is a falsehood. There is no proof he ever did such a thing. Amherst responded positively to the suggestion from a fellow officer in a letter dated July 16, 1763, but this came a month after the one and only time British troops actually stooped to such a tactic—during a native siege of Fort Pitt (near present-day Pittsburgh) on June 24, 1763.

Finally, Begbie was indeed responsible for sentencing six Indigenous leaders to hanging for their role in the killing of 20 non-natives during B.C.’s Chilcotin War. Yet condemning him into oblivion on this basis ignores his vast record of support and understanding for the province’s Indigenous communities at all other times. He was fluent in several Indigenous languages, recognized the concept of Aboriginal title in his rulings and took a strong position against racism. Begbie was perhaps the most liberal and native-friendly judge of his time. As for his controversial hanging decision, which the B.C. government recently apologized for, he had no choice. The death penalty was mandatory for murder cases. Despite all this, his own law society has removed him from the firmament.

To our great disadvantage, Canada has become obsessed with replaying a slow-motion, high-definition version of our past. Historical figures are now judged by intense focus on individual statements or actions. One ‘infraction’ at odds with current acceptable standards has become sufficient evidence for expulsion from present-day society. Yet it is reasonable, if not inevitable, to expect that every notable figure from the past has probably said or done something that will grate against modern sensibilities, particularly with respect to Indigenous relations. It is therefore only a matter of time before every statue, park and street named for an historical character in Canada is declared incompatible with the present.

But while the fraught relationship between colonial Canada and Indigenous peoples is an important component of our history, it is not its entirety. We should not allow current attention being paid to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings, necessary and disturbing as they may be, to become a mechanism that strips Canada of our most significant characters and events. Or removes the context and detail from the stories of who we are and where we came from.

Source: The case for keeping ‘Langevin Block’ – Macleans.ca

Bill McKee, the former curator of B.C. history at the Museum of Canadian History in Ottawa makes a sensible suggestion on how to keep historical names and statues while acknowledging the less savoury aspects of their legacy:

Removing his [Begbie’s] statue will accomplish nothing of general benefit. It would help to hide this sad part of our history. In its absence, no one will remember or learn a lesson to understand the native side of the Chilcotin War, and the complex story behind the execution of the chiefs.

I would suggest, rather than removing this important statue, a more useful step would be to provide interpretive panels explaining all parts of the life of Matthew Baillie Begbie, around the statue, similar to an interpretive exhibition in Vancouver’s Chinatown, just east of Carrell Street. The exhibition could highlight his impact upon our history, and focus on his impact upon First Nations, not as an aside, but a central part of our history.

Another important way to recognize the cost of the arrival of the British and Canadian fur traders, the participants in the several gold rushes and of the British colonial society upon our First Nations would be to erect another large statue recognizing the story of the Chilcotin War and the resulting executions of indigenous leaders. The funding could come from the public, as well as the City of New Westminster and the governments of B.C. and Canada. It could be located on the site of the former cemetery next to the new high school or near the courthouse, where the remains of the chiefs were possibly buried. I would think the site near the high school would be a chance to highlight the story of our First Nations to young people in New Westminster.

I also want to point out that the statue of Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie was created by Elek Imredy, a refugee who came to Canada from Hungary, after the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution. Many people will recognize his “Girl in a Wetsuit” statue off of Stanley Park, at the entrance to Burrard Inlet, which was created at the request of the City of Vancouver. These statues are a reflection of the contributions of the many immigrants and refugees who have contributed to our history.

Please don’t remove the statue of Matthew Baillie Begbie.

Source: Opinion: Removing statue of Judge Begbie benefits no one

Government accused of hoarding Canadian history in ‘secret’ archives

Hard to know whether deliberate policy or, what I think may be more likely, lower priority and capacity constraints:

Some of Canada’s leading historians say the federal government is putting the country’s historical record at risk by hoarding piles of documents inside secret archives that together would make a stack taller than the CN Tower.

Historian Dennis Molinaro of Trent University discovered ministries and agencies are stockpiling millions of decades-old papers rather than handing them over to Library and Archives Canada for safekeeping and public access. He’s launched a petition to try to convince the government to set them free.

The Canadian Historical Association (CHA) has joined his campaign and is calling on the government to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary by overhauling the laws on access to government records.

“It’s very disturbing that there are caches of documents about which we know very little. We don’t even know the extent of this,” said CHA president Joan Sangster, a colleague of Molinaro’s at Trent in Peterborough, Ont., where she teaches labour and women’s history.

As part of his research, Molinaro has been asking government departments to hand over information about Canada’s Cold War domestic spy and surveillance programs run by the RCMP. Last fall, the federal government initially refused his access-to-information request for the papers (which were never transferred to the national archives) concerning a 65-year-old top secret RCMP wiretapping program dubbed Project Picnic.

One day after CBC News reported on Molinaro’s battle with the bureaucracy, officials notified him they would release the 1951 “secret order” that authorized the wiretapping program targeting suspected Soviet spies and other subversives, signed by Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent.

‘Secret or shadow archive’

Access-to-information officials have told Molinaro the Privy Council Office holds at least 1.6 million more pages from the era, many of which could concern Cold War counter-espionage programs. He’s also learned many more intelligence-related records dating back four, five and six decades are being held by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs.

He’s been told in email exchanges that there’s currently no public list to help him — or any other researcher — understand, let alone access, these mountains of papers kept inside closed government storerooms.

“The government seems to be, in essence, running some kind of secret or shadow archive,” Molinaro told CBC News.

Keeping millions of records from the national archives is “appalling,” he said.

“You’re hiding the historical record from the Canadian people.”

He says the problem extends far beyond his own research interest of domestic surveillance.

“Think of how many events from the Cold War … The Cuban Missile Crisis … RCMP counter-intelligence operations, foreign intelligence operations,” he said. “What else is there on other topics? On Indigenous affairs and relations? What else is in different government institutions on a variety of topics?

“We don’t know.”

CBC News asked various government departments to identify how much historical material they keep that’s more than 30 years old — and why.

The Privy Council Office (PCO) revealed it has “1,430 cubic feet” (40.5 cubic metres) of government records dating back many decades.


PCO says transfer of these cabinet documents, discussion papers and records to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is “time-consuming” and first requires wide consultation to ensure classified information isn’t released improperly.

The office says it’s looking at recommendations to declassify a large block of “legacy” information from 1939-1959, and considering transferring cabinet minutes and documents from the 1980s to LAC.

The CSE, Canada’s electronic spy agency, acknowledges it, too, is struggling to sort 128 linear metres of boxes of “legacy” records that are more than three decades old before handing them over to LAC.

The Foreign Affairs Department, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP all declined to say how much historical material they continue to store.

Source: Government accused of hoarding Canadian history in ‘secret’ archives – Canada – CBC News

Quebec minister refuses to sign off on new, controversial history course

Positive move:

A proposed high school history course that critics said ignored minorities in Quebec and promoted a rigid, nationalist ideology will not be implemented province wide as planned, the Education Department confirmed Thursday.

Instead, the department will make changes to the program to better reflect the province’s cultural and linguistic minorities, according to a government official as well as other well-placed sources.

The contentious plan was introduced by the Parti Quebecois government before it lost the 2014 election and was being piloted in a few Quebec schools.

Department spokeswoman Marie-Eve Dion said schools that want to try piloting the new program in August 2016 will be allowed to do so while all others will stick to the old curriculum until further notice.

“Many consultations have been done and improvements are constantly being implemented,” she said in an email. “The goal is to make the course as representative and inclusive as possible.”

The program was to be introduced province wide in the 2016-17 school year, which begins in late August.

“This is absolutely good news,” said Sylvia Martin-Laforge, head of the Quebec Community Groups Network, a federally funded organization that advocates for the province’s anglophone community.

“We understand that the minister was not happy with the material. It would seem that people were eager (in the Education Department) to roll out this program and the minister had the courage to say ‘No. We will not roll this out.’”

The proposed two-year program, called History of Quebec and Canada, was widely panned by First Nations groups, as well as by cultural and linguistic minority communities across the province.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press revealed that non-European francophone immigrants are scantily mentioned.

In the guidelines teachers use to craft their lesson plans, Confederation in 1867 is not a theme, but tucked into the larger section called “1840-1896: The formation of the Canadian federal system.”

Moreover, the only discussion of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, considered the father of multiculturalism in Canada, is in the context of him “inviting the provincial governments to reopen the Canadian Constitution,” after which Quebec left “empty-handed.”

Martin-Laforge said “we can only hope that the depictions of minority communities will not be stereotypical and that the new program doesn’t characterize us as bad guys.”

Jacques Beauchemin, who helped write the proposed curriculum, told The Canadian Press earlier this year the purpose of the program was to remove mentions about Quebec being a diverse society that promotes multiculturalism.

Source: Quebec minister refuses to sign off on new, controversial history course – Macleans.ca

No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations

One of the likely enduring legacies of the Rio Olympics, a greater understanding of the past:

In an abandoned train depot near Rio de Janeiro’s derelict port area are stacked dozens of black plastic boxes. Two young researchers are sorting through their contents. Inside one box: a ceramic pipe. Inside another: a plate used in a traditional religious ceremony.

All of the objects belonged to former slaves and most of these finds wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for work related to the Olympics.

In 2011, the city of Rio embarked on an extensive project to rejuvenate the long-neglected port area. Among the planned projects: the Museum of Tomorrow, an Olympic village for judges, light rail to carry the tourists expected during the Games, as well as better housing for the area’s residents.

To their surprise, they began unearthing hundreds of artifacts dating from the early 1800s.

“These objects prove the existence, the materialization of this terrible process in the human history — the history of the slave,” says Claudio Honorato, a historian with the New Blacks Institute for Research and Memory.

I meet Honorato at a spot rife with historical import: the Valongo Wharf, where close to half-a-million slaves were off-loaded during Brazil’s slave trade. It was built in 1811, then later buried, only to be unearthed again during a $2-billion excavation project.

Port Area Rennos-2

“The development work was really to be done faster but they had to stop the process,” Honorato says. “The Museum of Tomorrow and the Mauá Pier were expected to be opened in 2011 with a big party and were only opened now. When they came upon all the African-Brazilian materials — these archeological traces — the development work had to stop.”

That’s because developers have to comply with legislation passed in Rio relatively recently that says no development can go ahead on land where evidence of historical interest has been discovered, without doing further archeological research.

“This port area was a place where a lot of ships from Africa came, bringing 500,000 slaves,” says Ondemar Dias, with the Brazilian Archeological Institute. “The amount of materials related to these cultures demonstrates, along with other research, that it’s a very important place to tell the story of this culture that came to Brazil.”

….”We have lots of objects in the museums here that are, for instance, gifts of African embassies to our emperor, and even other objects that were conquered in wars in Africa,” Honorato says. “These, on the other hand, were objects built here. They are part of the culture of these individuals who lived in this society, who contributed to this society.

“I think this is a material that reveals the day-to-day life, the common life, in the places that these Africans lived, where they’ve worked, where they’ve celebrated. And that’s why we call this the ‘slavery paths in Rio de Janeiro.’ It reveals the aspects of this ‘Little Africa’ — what they were actually doing in their daily life.”

African history, he says, has rarely been valued in Brazil. At other sites of historical importance, discoveries have been quietly covered up to enable construction to continue. But now advocates are hoping to turn the area’s African history into an important tourist attraction.

“That’s why Brazil is requesting that this place go on the World Heritage list,” Dias says.

There are already tours incorporating the area’s African history, including an area where the bodies of dead slaves were dumped. Honorato says he hopes this will lead to a change in attitudes; that African history will no longer be buried, like the Valongo Wharf.

“[It’s important] to preserve this history, to preserve this culture, this memory,” he says. “And also ensure the memory of those who resisted, and are here, until the present moment.”

Source: No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations – World – CBC News