Black History Month In Canada… Rosemary Brown

Rosemary Brown (Vancouver Sun)

Rosemary Brown – Social Worker and Political Trailblazer

“To be black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up,” said Rosemary Brown.

A staunch feminist and a socialist, and Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature, Rosemary Brown battled for equality and human rights in her lifetime. Black women have endured discrimination in Canada and much worse — over the course of history.

Rosemary Brown has the distinction of being Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party. Brown was born in Jamaica to a politically minded family. She immigrated to Canada in 1951 to pursue post-secondary studies in social work at McGill University (BA) and the University of British Columbia (Masters of Social Work). As a young student, Brown encountered both sexism and racism first-hand when applying for housing or summer jobs, or simply fitting into university life.

Following graduation, Brown became involved with two social groups that would shape her political mindset, the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and Voice of Women. She also worked briefly with the Children’s Aid Society and as a counselor at Simon Fraser University. Brown was often a panelist on the national television series People in Conflict. But during the turbulence of the 1960s, Brown found renewed purpose in her role as a political advocate against both racism and sexism. At the time, traditional roles of race and gender were being challenged in Canadian politics. As a Black woman, Brown was qualified to speak for both groups. She brought that level of awareness to her role as Ombudswoman and founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council (VSW). 

In 1972, urged by her fellow VSW members, Brown entered provincial politics as a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate. [Note: the NDP in Canada is similar to the Progressives in the USA] When, on 30 August, she won her seat in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard, Brown became the first Black woman to sit in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. During her 14 years as MLA, Brown created a committee to remove sexism in British Columbia’s educational material and was instrumental in the formation of the Berger Commission on the Family, among her many other accomplishments. During that time, she also ran for the leadership of the federal NDP in 1975. With the slogan “Brown is Beautiful,” she broke color barriers in the federal arena when she ran a close second to Ed Broadbent, ahead of three other candidates.

Brown retired from the provincial legislature in 1988 and turned her attention to international advocacy. She became the CEO of the advocacy group MATCH International Women’s Fund, serving for three years and holding additional positions thereafter. It was a role Brown was passionate about, requiring extensive travel and speaking engagements, and affording her the opportunity to garner support for overseas projects that promoted the political, economic and social advancement of women in developing countries. In 1993, Brown was named chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a position she held until 1996, all the while continuing her work with MATCH.

Rosemary Brown B.C. MLA from 1972 to 1986.
Rosemary Brown B.C. MLA from 1972 to 1986. (Women on Canadian Bank Notes)

Today’s Sources:

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                                         https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rosemary-brown/

* CBC News Canada                                                                  http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

21 thoughts on “Black History Month In Canada… Rosemary Brown”

  1. Dear John Fioravanti,

    Thanks for another inspiring story.

    Rosemary Brown is another example of how an immigrant from one of the US president’s shxthole countries ended up contributing so much to her community in Canada and who did so well in blazing a trail for others to follow, as she struggled to overcome the obstacles of racism and sexism which were rampant at the time she went to University and then when she threw her hat into the political arena.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Meet Rosemary Brown, a trailblazer who changed the world in her fight against racism and sexism. The story of Rosemary Brown is the latest installment in John Fioravanti’s series on Canadian Black History Month and she is a worthy addition indeed! I was inspired by this noble lady, as I know you will be too. Thank you, John, for telling us of this wonderful woman!

    Liked by 1 person

          1. And you the history teacher! I think that perhaps Black History isn’t as well noted in Canada, possibly because you guys didn’t have slavery to the large extent that we did. But now my curiosity is peaked (it doesn’t take much, for I have a bouncy mind that is always curious about something) and I wonder … did Canada have a Civil Rights movement comparable to what we had in the U.S.? I’m thinking not, but don’t know. I shall have to do some research … always new things to learn, yes? And we are never to old to learn. If I ever stop wanting to know more, then just shoot me!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, we had a civil rights movement here, but it wasn’t on the same scale as in the US. Our big civil issues have been French Canadian dissatisfaction and their separatist movement + the ongoing issues with our Indigenous peoples. African Americans make up about 10% of your population. The French are about 10% of Canada’s population and predominantly live in one province – Quebec. If they ever declare independence, we may have our own civil war. Hope that helps.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yes, it does … and shows me how un-educated I am in Canadian history! It bothers me that Canadians and Europeans are all so knowledgeable in U.S. history and current events, yet as a whole, we are largely ignorant of the history of other nations. I think there is an arrogance in the U.S. that is inexcusable. Thanks for the info … you opened another door in my curiosity chest!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. You’re welcome, Jill. Your Revolutionary War created two nations, The U.S.A. and Canada. We were established as a separate nation when we refused the invitation to join the Thirteen Colonies. We both evolved separately – side by side in North America. Canadians have always been fascinated by our Big Brother Uncle Sam (sorry for the sexist term) – because you have had a major influence on our development – economically and culturally. There are few nations in the world that are as alike to each other as Canada and the United States. If I visited any country in the world and claimed I was American, I would be believed – until they demanded my passport. I’ve been told that many American travelers put Canadian flag stickers on their luggage and our flag pins on their lapels so that they’ll get better treatment – especially in Europe. They get away with it because most Europeans see us as the same. Your influence on us is enormous, so we make it our business to study your history – which is intertwined with our own. Also, TV shows and movies coming out of Hollywood have shed much light on US history – whether accurately or not – and we are one of the largest non-American consumers of your pop culture and literature.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Many thanks, John! I still think we in the U.S. should take a greater interest in Canada, its culture and history, though. We are, after all, closest allies. But it isn’t just Canada … few in this country know anything about Mexico, either. For that matter, about any other country. I know more about European history than I do Canadian, and that seems somehow a shame. But, I am learning. I love having so many friends from around the world on WordPress … it is like a whole ‘nother family!

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. You’re absolutely right about the blogging community – a fabulous opportunity to learn from each other! I remember a fellow student at university – from Syracuse, NY – on this topic he said that Canada wasn’t important enough in the world for American students to learn about. I got really perturbed when Bush addressed a joint sitting of Congress after 9/11 and made a big deal about the UK as their #1 ally – after hundreds of Canadian first responders streamed across the border that day to help out in New York. We accepted all US flights that were turned away from their US destinations that day. What the F*** did Britain do that day??? I’m still steaming about that one. Hugs!!

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, those were the days! I remember well being an environmental activist both before and after Dave Barrett’s days as Premier; a (then) staunch NDP supporter as executive member then president of SPEC (Scientific Pollution and Environmental Control Society). Later in the fray again, when BC was once again under Social Credit with Junior Bennett’s legislature mob (akin to what is now infesting Washington) attacking the NDP created land reserves as executive member of another activist organization called “Save the Farmland Committee.” We had quite a time, earning at least one death threat! I did meet with Rosemary Brown as, if memory serves, guest speaker at a SPEC annual general meeting (could have been an different group or meeting). I certainly remember her as a household name in the Vancouver-Fraser Valley areas. Hard to look back on those times and compare with the utter apathy that seems to be driving the present generations with their i-phones and smart phones and fake torn out pant knees. I wonder what these zombies are waiting for? The hearse?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How fortunate you are to have been able to hear Rosemary Brown speak! I wonder how the federal NDP would have fared if she had defeated Ed Broadbent for the party leadership. I remember that Broadbent was highly respected by all parties for his honesty and integrity – consistently polling better numbers than any of the other party leaders. If he had led the Liberal Party, he would have been PM.

      Liked by 2 people

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