Homage to James Robinson Johnston and his Legacy
By Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill
The first African Nova Scotian to graduate from university and to practise law in Canada, James Robinson Johnston was a man blessed with the seed of vision and ability. He applied himself as any diligent gardener would. In an era when academic harvest was an unknown among Blacks, he maximized the yield on the outcrop that Dalhousie University and Dalhousie Law School granted him — that being the exceptional opportunity to cultivate. He sowed and tended the seed and it germinated, grew and blossomed. The blooms of his industry and talent actually started to bear fruit and his prospects were very promising.
His sudden demise, coupled with the unfortunate circumstances that contributed to his death, caused the growth to wither prematurely and the ground lay fallow for more than half a century. But seed do not always just dry and die. Seed may lie dormant for a period only to generate new life when conditions become favourable. So too with the legacy of Johnston’s achievements. Today, James Robinson Johnston’s memory sprouts new growth, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
The significance of “Lawyer Johnston’s” life, his career and even his death invest the lives of African Descended Peoples with both new meaning and direction. This same significance confers added honor on a venerable institution – Dalhousie University and its Law School; points legal scholarship in new directions that have long been marginalized or neglected, and until now painfully exclusionary. Further, it charts a new course that will render academic policy more equitable and inclusive.
Through the foresight and efforts of a group of determined individuals, the dormant seed is regenerated and broadcast. This renewal is bolstered with the prospect of multiplier multiplying possibilities. For we are now poised to witness the germination of generations of seeds and saplings arising from among a sector of the Canadian population whose access to law faculties and consequently to the legal profession has been thwarted by many stumbling blocks and deterrents to success.
— © 2002 Dr. Esmeralda M. A. Thornhill, Halifax.