Evidence of racial discrimination and inequality still exists and impacts the lives of working Canadians every day.
Ottawa (31 Jan. 2019) — Every February, Canadians are invited to participate in Black History Month festivities and events that honour the legacy of black Canadians, past and present. The government of Canada introduced this special month in 1995 to raise awareness about Canadians of African descent. For 2019, the theme is "Black Migrations," tracking the continuous movement of black people from the American South to the industrialized North and beyond.
Accordingly, today the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is sharing the stories of 3 black Canadians, 2 of whom came to Canada and shaped our nation’s history, and a third whose story traveled to all corners of Canada in 2018. These are 3 of the many black Canadians who inspire our work as trade unionists in our ongoing struggle for equality and fairness.
Born into slavery around 1856, Albert Jackson was originally from the United States. In 1858 his mother, Anne Maria Jackson, utilized the Underground Railroad to save her family and relocate to Toronto. In 1882, Jackson secured a job as a letter carrier, but was met with racism on his first day when white postmen refused to train him. He was subsequently reassigned to the position of hall porter but controversy over his position raged in the press. A delegation from the black community met with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and demanded Jackson be reinstated as a letter carrier. Two days later, Jackson was back in his position as a letter carrier — a job he held until he died in 1918.
In 2012, the lane behind Jackson's house on Brunswick Avent was renamed Albert Jackson Lane. A heritage plaque detailing Jackson’s story was unveiled in Toronto in 2017. And in 2018, thanks to the work of CUPW members, Jackson was commemorated on a stamp as part of Canada Post’s Black History series.
Born in 1937 in Happy Hill, Grenada, Augustine moved to Canada in 1960. Augustine was very active in her community, advocating to strengthen minority and women’s rights, before she entered politics in 1993 as a Member of Parliament. One of her many accomplishments was proposing a motion to recognize February as Black History Month. The motion passed unanimously and Black History Month continues to celebrate black Canadians to this day. Augustine continued to serve as a Member of Parliament until she retired in 2006. She has received numerous honours and awards, including the Order of Canada, for her work as an educator, a politician, and an advocate for social justice.
The owner of Halifax’s Desmond School of Beauty and Culture, Viola Desmond made history by sitting in a “whites only” section in a segregated movie theatre. Though her ticket was for the balcony section (for a price of twenty-five cents) she chose to sit in the floor area (which cost twenty-six cents) because she was nearsighted. She was arrested, jailed, and charged for tax evasion. She represented herself at the trial (she wasn’t told she was entitled to a lawyer) was convicted, and fined twenty-six dollars — all over a matter of one cent. The black community rallied around Desmond with protests and an appeal to the provincial Supreme Court, but there was no acknowledgement of racial discrimination in Desmond’s case until 2010 when Mayann Francis, Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant-Governor, pardoned her — 45 years after Desmond’s death. Desmond has since been honoured in several commemorations, including on a stamp, in a Heritage Minute, on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and on Canada’s $10 bill.
We, in the labour movement, care deeply about rights, fairness, and equal dignity. Evidence of racial discrimination and inequality still exists and impacts the lives of working Canadians every day. Confronting racism is a fundamental aspect of our struggle, and NUPGE is proud to do our part in fighting for equality in the present and honouring the legacy of black Canadians and anyone of African descent that calls Canada their home.
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