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John Peters Humphrey was bullied as a child, which led to his concern for human rights
August 7, 2013
HAMPTON, NB, Aug 7, 2013/ Troy Media/ – The little town of Hampton, New Brunswick (population 4,300) in Canada has a special connection to a much wider world of universal human rights. Originally settled by “Yankee” Loyalist farmers in the 1780s in the wake of the American Revolution, Hampton is now a regional shopping hub and also a satellite community of the city of Saint John.
Like most places, Hampton would like to be known for something exceptional, perhaps a famous resident. In this regard, the town is most fortunate as it is the birth place of John Peters Humphrey (1905-1995). The late Professor Humphrey drafted the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York in 1947.
His story has recently been retold by Anne Huestis Scott in her book The Boy Who Was Bullied (Tantallon, Nova Scotia: Glen Margaret Publishing, 2011). This is not an academic-style biography, but instead an imaginative reconstruction of the life of John Peters Humphrey from existing archival sources. Dialogue has been constructed for the protagonists but the work is grounded on both documentary and many photographic sources.
Anne Scott makes the connection, as did Professor Humphrey, between his youthful pain suffered as a victim of school bullying and his later concern for human rights. As a boy John Peters Humphrey lost an arm in an accident and as a consequence was both verbally and physically abused by students at his school in Hampton and later at a private boarding school in nearby Rothesay, New Brunswick.
These experiences changed him into a scholar determined to use education to escape his tormentors. He went on to McGill University in Montreal, earned three degrees there in the late 1920s, became a lawyer, then a professor, then Dean of Law in 1945. Along the way he also obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science before going to work for the United Nations in New York in 1946.
The work of an educator, Anne Scott’s book is written for a general audience — perhaps high school students would also appreciate it – and it also contains an appendix of school-level human rights projects of interest to teachers.
The life of John Peters Humphrey has also been the subject of a recent documentary film aired by THE Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on July 13, 2013. Produced by Greg Hemmings, Lauchlan Ough and Christine McLean The Boy Who Was Bullied shares the same title as the Scott book. Both film and book make the connection between bullying and human rights involving respect for each individual. Both also give credit to John Hobbins, former law librarian at McGill University, who discovered the documentary evidence that Humphrey drafted the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among its many merits the film also has some footage of author Scott’s book launching at the United Nations in New York.
What is also interesting in all of this is Hampton’s attempt in the last dozen years or so to rebrand itself. A large sign on New Brunswick’s Highway No 1 proclaims it as “The Birth Place of John Peters Humphrey”. It should be pointed out that Hampton also promotes its other attractions including nature trails.
Meanwhile, in the town centre in front of the old courthouse building, statues and monuments honour John Peters Humphrey. According to my local sources, there was some increase in enquiries at the local visitors’ information centre after the CBC documentary was aired.
Many local teachers have brought human rights into the class room using the John Peters Humphrey story as an introduction to the subject. Since 2000, the local John Peters Humphrey Foundation has promoted human rights education in the area and brought an interesting series of public speakers to Hampton: Holocaust survivors, witnesses to genocide, advocates for minority rights, etc. Their website is a fine example of an online community project.
This story has several cultural dimensions to it. Hamptonians have used their famous son not only to attract visitors but also to promote human rights education. They have brought the story of John Peters Humphrey into their schools and their wider community. The linkage between bullying and human rights is something all educators can appreciate. They, like John Peters Humphrey, have turned a negative experience into something positive. A locally written book, a new documentary film and an educational foundation all connect this vibrant little place to the wider global community because their local lad John Peters Humphrey drafted what has been described as “The Magna Carta of Mankind”.
Troy Media Columnist Fred Donnelly’s career in journalism covers more than two decades. He writes on popular culture. You can follow Fred on Twitter @FredDonnelly2.
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