Grace Kennedy Editorial Agassiz Harrison Observer image

Grace Kennedy Editorial Agassiz Harrison Observer image

EDITORIAL: Black History Month shows it’s time to be better than our past

Editor Grace Kennedy shares local links to Black racism, and why we have to remember that history

The story of Lewis Agassiz is central to the story of Agassiz.

It’s the first story I heard about the community anyways — one where the intrepid Agassiz sailed down the Fraser River with his wife and children towards what would eventually become Ferny Coombe.

It was the Agassiz family name that allowed him to settle on the Kent hillside after travelling from Prince Edward Island to the frontier community.

It was an uncle that gave him three hundred pounds sterling to pay off the mortgage on their log house.

It was his grandfather Captain James Agassiz who died and left him a thousand pounds sterling, which he used to upgrade their farmstead.

RELATED: CELEBRATING 125: The reason for Agassiz

And it is the Agassiz family name which is why I bring up their story at the start of Black History Month.

The Swiss-born American naturalist Louis Agassiz, something of a first cousin twice removed to our local Agassiz family in their many-branched family tree, was a behemoth in the world of science in the 1830s to 1860s.

He made immense contributions to the science of glacial activity and produced landmark works on extinct fish.

He revolutionized natural science education in the United States and achieved lasting fame for his work.

He was also a racist, one whose views on Black people helped embolden many pro-slavery Americans during a time when tensions around race had erupted into civil war.

Louis Agassiz did not accept Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which was hitting the printing press while Agassiz was studying science.

He believed that each species was a special creation, and most importantly, that each human race was created independently as well.

He ascribed heavily to research done by Samuel Morton, who measured skulls to determine an intellectual hierarchy of the races. In this hierarchy, whites were at the top and Blacks were at the bottom. Agassiz also believed that interracial relationships were immoral and “destructive to social equality.”

RELATED: Black leaders and artists reflect on Black History Month in 2021

Now Morton’s research has been heavily discredited, and I certainly hope we are all wise enough to know that an interracial couple will not undermine our social system.

So why bring up Louis Agassiz? What does he have to do with our small town?

Simply this: history never goes away.

We are still tackling issues of racism today.

They may not look the same as they did in the 1860s, but they stem from that time.

If we forget about those origins, then we will never truly be able to move forward towards an inclusive and equal society.

We have a rich history in our community, troubled at times, but positive too.

RELATED: COLUMN: Why you probably agree with the Black Lives Matter slogan, even if you think you don’t

This history includes the stories of the Indigenous communities that were here long before Europeans came. It includes Chinese men and women, who came to the area in the gold rush and with the railway, and stayed with their families for years to come.

It also includes Black history, as transient as it may be in our neck of the woods.

So this month, for Black History Month, let’s do our part to look deeper into our history and see where we have fallen behind in the past.

Let’s examine our view of the world, and see if there may be prejudice hiding in our fears or worries.

But most importantly, let’s celebrate all the ways that diversity makes us a stronger, better community.

Let’s be better than the people in our past. We owe our society as much.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Avalon Butchart in her kayak on Hicks Lake, painting in hand. (Avalon Butchart/Contributed)
Pandemic pushes Agassiz artist into plein air painting

Avalon Butchart heard a ‘call from God’ to bring her painting outdoors

The eastern Fraser Valley is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
11 new COVID-19 cases in Agassiz, Harrison during last week of February

The number of positive test results is a jump from the three cases the week before

RCMP were on scene under the Menzies Street bridge in Chilliwack on Thursday, March 4, 2021 where a body was found. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Body found under Menzies bridge in Chilliwack that of man in 20s

Death not considered suspicious, said Chilliwack RCMP

Alan Pryor in 2015, during the Agassiz Fire Department’s 70th year. (Greg Laychak/The Observer)
Agassiz fireman celebrates 51 years at the hall

Al Pryor has been a key member in the Agassiz Fire Department since he was 16

Items seized by Chilliwack RCMP and Abbotsford Police during a Feb. 23 traffic stop. (RCMP photo)
Police from Chilliwack and Abbotsford seize drugs in traffic stop

Chilliwack RCMP worked with the Abbotsford PD to seize four kilograms of suspected fentanyl

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read