Wilfrid Peters, Law ’62, has one more good memory to add to his experience at Queen’s.
Peters, a Caribbean native and Toronto resident, said he spent the best years of his life in law school at Queen’s, but wasn’t aware of alumnus Robert Sutherland’s legacy while on campus.
Sutherland, the University’s first black graduate, gave Queen’s a $12,000 bequest in 1878—an amount that was equal to the University’s annual operating budget.
On Saturday afternoon, Peters was one of about 50 people who gathered in Wallace Hall to celebrate the renaming of the Policy Studies building to Robert Sutherland Hall.
“He was the first black man to graduate from Queen’s and the first one to graduate in North America,” Peters said. “He left his entire estate to Queen’s and by doing so, saved Queen’s from going under. That’s why I’m here.”
June Girvan, chief volunteer of the J’Nikira Dinqinesh Education Centre in Ottawa, spoke at the event.
“Robert Sutherland was an academic sprinter,” she said, adding that Sutherland said the University always treated him like a gentleman.
“He meant his human rights were respected,” she said. “Queen’s was cutting edge because it was practicing equity at a time when slavery was still in existence.”
Girvan said the centre started a $12,000 scholarship for Queen’s students who are descendants of the Atlantic slave trade.
“Queen’s has to carry these humanitarian principles forward in the 21st century,” she said, adding that she hopes Sutherland’s legacy will be passed down through this fund. “Who better to carry it forward than current students?”
Sacha Atherly, president of the African and Caribbean Students’ Association and ArtSci ’10, said she’s excited Sutherland is finally getting the honour he deserves.
“It’s something we’ve all been hoping for and it’s inspirational for us,” she said. “A lot of the work we’ve been doing has come true.”
Marc Taylor, Windsor District Black Coalition president, said he and seven other people drove overnight from Windsor to attend the ceremony.
After finding out about Sutherland’s history and the naming of the building, he contacted Queen’s requesting an invitation to the event.
“I grew up in this country and I went to school here and it’s something I never would have known,” he said, adding that he only learned about Sutherland one and a half years ago.
“This is historic in more ways than one,” he said. “It’s a little bit late but it’s better late than never.”
Taylor said he’s heard many reports of racist incidents happening on campus in the last few years.
“You already hear a lot of negatives so it’s always good to hear some positives,” he said. “It does make a big difference.”
—With files from Gloria Er-Chua
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