NUPGE celebrates Black History Month honouring the lives and legacies of black Canadians and black people living in Canada.
Ottawa (31 Jan. 2020) ― This Saturday marks the beginning of Black History Month. Every year in February, Canadians celebrate and honour the legacies of black Canadians and black people living in Canada. The theme for Black History Month 2020 is “Canadians of African Descent: Going forward, guided by the past.”
Origins of Black History Month in Canada
Carter G. Woodson, a black historian educated at Harvard, proposed the idea of designating time to honour the accomplishments of African Americans in 1926. Shortly after, Canada picked up the tradition, and in 1976, Black History Week officially expanded into Black History Month.
The Honourable Jean Augustine, the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, introduced a motion in the House of Commons in 1995 to have February officially recognized as Black History Month. The motion was carried unanimously, as did a similar motion in 2008 when proposed in the Senate by Senator Donald Oliver, the first black man appointed to the Senate.
Black History Month in present day Canada
Black History Month plays an important role in youth education, as evidenced by the essay entitled “Racism in Canada and the Importance of Unions,” by Natalie Blecha, who was one of the winners of the National Union of Public and General Employees’ Unions Matter contest. We must ensure that Canada’s history of colonialism and racism is not erased but addressed adequately in both formal and informal education.
It is equally important that we don’t create a false narrative of black Canadians and black people living in Canada as merely victims of their circumstances. Black people played an important role in Canadian history and found ways to fight back against racism, to fight for their rights, and to exercise their agency. All across Canada, black Canadians and black people living in Canada made their mark. For example,
- Leonard Braithwaith, the first black parliamentarian in Canada who spoke out against the Separate Schools Act and fought for gender equality.
- Mary Ann Shadd, the first black female newspaper publisher in Canada, who founded and edited The Provincial Freeman.
- The men of the No.2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, who were discriminated against and prevented from enlisting alongside white soldiers but who steadfastly opposed discrimination to become a non-combat unit. They risked their lives during World War I digging trenches and building infrastructure to advance the fight.
- Rosemary Brown, an activist who campaigned against racism and sexism in the 1960s, and who became Canada’s first black female member of provincial parliament in 1972.
These stories represent just a handful of the thousands of black people who helped write the history of Canada. Their lives and their struggles directly impact the work NUPGE does today around fairness, rights, and combating racism.
NUPGE encourages all members to participate in Black History Month celebrations, be it reading a new entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia’s Black History in Canada collection, or participating in a community event. There is always something to be learned by listening to the experience of another.
Share your stories
NUPGE also invites members to share their own stories. Tell us the stories of black Canadians that have been passed down through family history — particularly those of black Canadians who were or are part of the labour movement. It would be our honour to celebrate their lives and their legacies. You can share your stories as a comment on our Facebook page or as a comment on Twitter.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE