Rocky Jones: The past and future of the Nova Scotia human rights' struggle

I wanted to ask Rocky Jones about his Wednesday lecture: “The Struggle for Human Rights in African Nova Scotian Communities, 1961-2011.”

No problem.



Not today. He’s on a panel at a national conference on public policy. Saturday, he’s in Truro, keynote speaker at an International Year for People of African Descent symposium. Then Ottawa for the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council; he’s on the private broadcast industry’s regional self-regulatory panel. And, finally, back to Halifax for the inaugural talk in Dalhousie University’s James Robinson Johnston Distinguished Lecture Series.

I thought you’d retired.

He laughs.

No one is better positioned to speak about the struggle for human rights in Nova Scotia over the past 50 years—and the next 50—than Burnley “Rocky” Jones. He’s central to that struggle.

During the mid-sixties, Jones and his then wife set up Kwacha House, a drop-in centre for inner-city black youth. It so frightened city fathers they lobbied to shut it down.

In 1968, he invited the Black Panthers to Halifax. In response, Ottawa quickly funded the “moderate” Black United Front just to undercut his growing popularity among “disaffected negroes.”

Someone set his house on fire—twice—and the RCMP began not-so-secretly following him.

In 1970, he helped lead a March on city hall by thousands of activists after city council secretly—some things never change!—hired a racist city manager. This time, the good guys won.

In 1970, he helped launch Dalhousie’s unique Transition Year Program to assist local blacks and natives succeed in university. Later, he developed innovative employment programs for ex-inmates, ran unsuccessfully for political office and launched a massive oral history project to record the stories of black elders.

After graduating from Dalhousie’s then-new Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq law program in 1992, he went on to become one of Nova Scotia’s preeminent civil rights lawyers, arguing cases all the way to the Supreme Court.

Recently, he was in the news again—at 70—lobbying successfully against the appointment of a white outsider to head up the Africville Heritage Society.

Unsurprisingly, he has opinions on the current state—and future direction—of our province’s human rights movement.

“But you’ll have to come to the speech for those,” he says.

I’ll be there.

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Information on the Lecture:
The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University launches its Distinguished Lecture Series by featuring
Lawyer and Human Rights Advocate, speaking on

Date: Wed. 23 Nov. 2011
Time: Reception: 6-7; Lecture: 7:15
Venue: Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building, Potter Family Auditorium, Dalhousie University, 6100 University Ave (at Henry St.) Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Admission: Free

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