Black History Month has arrived, as it has every February since it was made into law in December 1995. February 2016 thus marks the 20th anniversary of Black History Month in Canada. Unfortunately, though, by March 1st many people forget the history of black Canadians. So, I ask the question:
Is one month enough to celebrate Black history in Canada?
Why do we only celebrate the lives and importance of black Canadians for only one month? Why are the histories of Black Canadians not part of traditional education? When we learn Canadian history we should also be learning about Chloe Cooley, William Hall, and Daurene Lewis. The histories of black Canadians should be part of Canada’s traditional history and not focused on every February and then set-aside until the next February.
Most Canadians know the names Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Jackie Robinson. Their names are synonymous with the struggle of black people in the United States. But how many Canadians are familiar with the names of Willie O’Ree, Delos Davis, Rosemary Brown, Jean Augustine, or Lincoln Alexander?
Too few Canadians know that Rosemary Brown became the first black woman to be a member of a parliamentary body when elected to the B.C. legislature in 1972, or that Jean Augustine was the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons (1993-2005), and the first to serve in a federal cabinet. Many would struggle endlessly to tell you that the first black MP and the first black cabinet minister was Lincoln Alexander.
So, while the names of Robinson, King, and Douglass are well known in Canada, we should take time to acknowledge black Canadians such as Rosemary Brown, Jean Augustine, and Lincoln Alexander.
Delos Davis, an eager and smart black man in Ontario, successfully pressured MPP William Balfour shortly after Confederation to became the one of the first black lawyers in Canada to practice as a solicitor and as a barrister.
Willie O’Ree was the Jackie Robinson of the NHL. When he broke the colour barrier in the National Hockey League in 1957, he opened the door for young black boys and girls to play hockey. Yet too few know his name and his importance.
I am not saying that Canada shouldn’t set aside one month to celebrate the lives of Black Canadians. What I am saying, however, is that a single month is not nearly enough. So many black Canadians have had such a crucial role in Canada’s history that it is unfair to squeeze them all into 28 days. We should see Black Canada’s history as going hand in hand with our nation’s history.
Canada should be reminded more often of the role black Canadians have played so that names like Willie O’Ree, Daurene Lewis, Lincoln Alexander, Jean Augustine, and countless others don’t get forgotten.
Remembering black history should be more than something we are forced to do as a country. It should be something we want to do because it is right.
Is one month enough to celebrate Black History in Canada?
I think twelve months is more appropriate.