Today is 28 February … the last day of February and the final day of Black History Month in both the U.S. and Canada. I have let the ball drop this month, for reasons at least partly beyond my control, but our friend John Fioravanti has helped by sharing with us so much of Canada’s black history! Last week, I published Part I of John’s guest post, and we thought it fitting to save Part II for the final day of February, to wrap up the month. I would like to thank John for all the hard work he put into these wonderfully informative posts! Hey John … what say we do it again next year?
Upper Canada did not flourish, and Loyalist settlements remained scattered and isolated. Simcoe’s vision of a prosperous, English-speaking province was not shared in London. Britain viewed the fledgling colony as a mere appendage…
Dr. Afua Cooper, born in Jamaica, has made significant artistic and academic contributions to Canadian society.
Afua Cooper – Educator, Historian, Performance Artist, Poet
In addition to her renown as a dub poet-performance artist, Afua Cooper is an internationally-ranked historian., especially for her groundbreaking book The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal.
Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry [it consists of spoken word over reggae rhythms] and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community.In addition to her renown as a performance artist, Cooper is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women’s studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University. Continue reading “Black History In Canada… Afua Cooper”
Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Upper Canada in 1830.
Josiah Henson – Spiritual Leader, Author, Founder
Josiah Henson, spiritual leader, author, founder of the Black community settlement at Dawn, Upper Canada/Canada West (born 15 June 1789 in Charles County, Maryland; died 5 May 1883 in Dresden, ON). Born enslaved, Henson escaped to Canada in 1830. He founded the Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Upper Canada, for American fugitives from enslavement. He and a group of associates organized a trade-labor school, the British-American Institute. He was active on the executive committee until the Institute closed in 1868. Henson served as Dawn’s spiritual leader and patriarch and made numerous fundraising trips to the United States and England. He published his autobiography in 1849, and he was allegedly Harriet Beecher Stowe’s model for the lead character in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).
Henson first tried to buy his freedom in 1825. His owner, Isaac Riley, needed money and sent Henson to escort a group of 18 enslaved persons to Kentucky. While in transit, the group could easily have escaped to Ohio and made themselves free, but Henson believed his owner’s offer of manumission (ownership of himself). Consequently, he would not allow the escape and was later disappointed when he realized that his owner had no intention of giving him his freedom. He was taken, along with his wife and four children, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1829 to be sold. Henson and his family fled to Upper Canada, reaching the Niagara Peninsula on 28 October 1830.
Henson and his family settled near Dresden, Upper Canada. With his leadership skills, he was able to command the support of abolitionists who helped him create the Dawn Settlement, a place for refugees from enslavement to gain the education and skills necessary for self-sufficiency and self-determination. It was Henson’s belief that Black persons needed to learn skills within their own community. In 1841, Henson and his partners purchased 200 acres of land, and in 1842, they established the British-American Institute. A central focus of the settlement, the school was created for students of all ages and was sustainably designed to train teachers while providing general education and trade-labor instruction to members of the community. The community of Dawn developed around the Institute, with many residents farming, attending the Institute, and working in sawmills, gristmills and in other local industries.
After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, some members of the community returned or moved to the United States, though many remained at Dawn.
Henson’s autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada (1849) was published in order to raise funds for the continuation of the Dawn Settlement. Many consider Henson’s autobiography to be the inspiration for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Some have expressed concern over Josiah Henson as the model for the Uncle Tom character in Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Though written and published as an anti-slavery text, the book portrayed Black persons in a stereotypical manner.
Dionne Brand a highly accomplished poet, writer, and social activist made Canada her home after migrating from Trinidad.
Dionne Brand – Poet, Writer, Educator, and Activist
Dionne Brand, poet, writer, filmmaker, educator and activist (born 7 January 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad). Winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize, and former poet laureate of Toronto, Dionne Brand is considered one of Canada’s most accomplished poetic voices. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Dionne Brand”
Ferguson Jenkins became one of the premier pitchers in pro baseball history pitching in both the American and National leagues.
Ferguson (Fergie) Arthur Jenkins – Pro Baseball Player
Born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1942, Ferguson Arthur Jenkins was discovered by Philadelphia Phillies scout Gene Dziadura at the age of 15. While he initially had dreams to become a professional hockey player, Fergie’s 21-year professional baseball career began with the Phillies in 1965.
From 1967–1972, while a member of the Chicago Cubs, Fergie accomplished an incredible achievement of six straight 20-win seasons, winning the 1971 NL Cy Young Award as the league’s top pitcher.
In 1974, after being traded to the Texas Rangers, Fergie won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, winning a career-high 25 games. He remained in Texas for one more season before going to the Boston Red Sox for two years, and then back to the Rangers for four more seasons until 1981.
Fergie retired after the 1983 season, returning to Chicago and retiring as a Cub, not long after recording his 3,000th strikeout. At the time, he was the only pitcher in baseball history to strikeout more than 3,000 batters while accumulating less than 1,000 walks (997), a feat only since matched by Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux.
Career Highlights include the following: the first and only Canadian to be inducted into the National Baseball National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, July of 1991; induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Mary’s, Ontario, 1987; Lou Marsh Award recipient as Canada’s top athlete, 1974; Canadian Press Male Athlete of the Year 1967, 1968, 1971, 1974; inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001; received the Order of Canada, 2007; Inducted into Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, 2012.
On March 18, 2009, it was announced by the Cubs that Fergie’s number would be retired at Wrigley Field in Chicago. In a ceremony on May 3, 2009, Fergie’s number, 31, was raised up the historic left field foul pole, enshrining him among the other greatest Chicago Cubs players in its storied 138-year history. In 2010, Fergie was honored with a Canadian Postage Stamp in conjunction with Black History Month. In February 2011, he traveled to 46 cities across Canada, promoting the stamp and speaking on behalf of Black History initiatives. His charitable foundation, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation, was founded in 1999 and continues to operate out of St. Catharines, Ontario, raising more than $4-million for hundreds of charities across North America.
In 2011, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation doubled its office size to accommodate the development of the Fergie Jenkins Baseball/Black History Museum. The facility opened to the public in 2013, celebrates Fergie’s athletic and humanitarian accomplishments, showcases his vast collection of sports memorabilia and serves as an educational tool for local youth.
Bruny Surin, emigrated from Haiti to Quebec at the age of seven. He became an Olympic runner and gold medalist along with relay teammate Donovan Bailey.
Bruny Surin – Olympic Athlete
Bruny Surin, athlete (b at Cap Haïtien, Haiti, 12 July 1967). Surin was just seven years old when he immigrated to Québec. At the age of 17, he took an interest in the long jump and the triple jump. As a member of the Canadian team, he finished 15th in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. However, the 100 m sprint would be the defining event of his career.
At the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, he finished 3rd in the 100 m and 7th in the long jump. Surin placed 4th in the 100 m at his second Olympic Games in 1992, missing the podium by five one-hundredths of a second. After winning the 100 m sprint at the 1994 Jeux de la francophonie [Francophonie Games], Surin would go on to place second at the 1995 world championships.
Surin and his teammates won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 m relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games after dominating the race at the 1995 world championships. The Canadian team would successfully defend its title at the 1997 world championships.
He became the Canadian 100 m champion in 1998 with a time of 9.89 seconds, his fastest up until then. The highlight of his career came in 1999 when he ran the 100 m in under 10 seconds six times. Three of these times were at the world championships. In the final, he recorded a personal best with a time of 9.84 seconds, winning silver and missing the gold medal won by Maurice Greene by four one-hundredths of a second.
In 2009, a biography co-written by Bruny Surin and Saïd Khalil entitled Bruny Surin, le lion tranquille was published by Éditions Libre Expression in Montreal. The book covers Bruny Surin recounting 17 years of his sports career. In the book, Surin criticizes doping, describing it as a gangrene that ails athletics and all other sports.
His father lost his family in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. His oldest daughter is a professional tennis player and attends Penn State. His youngest daughter is a professional track and field athlete and recently committed to the University of Connecticut.
Founded in 2003, the Bruny Surin Foundation’s mission is to promote and encourage the adoption of a healthy lifestyle amongst youth in order to fight school dropout.
In addition to organizing seminars featuring well-known public figures for students and underprivileged children, the Bruny Surin Foundation coordinates training camps to encourage youngsters to adopt an active way of life.
The Foundation also provides direct financial support to elite athletes through annual contributions to the Fondation de l’athlète d’excellence du Québec. Thanks to the FBS Gala and the “Demi-Marathon Oasis de Blainville”, $1.5 million has been raised over the past 15 years.
Carrie Mae Best was born in Nova Scotia where she dedicated her life to the improvement of race relations in her province and Canada.
Carrie Mae Best – Human Rights Activist, Author, Publisher, Broadcaster
Carrie Mae Best (née Prevoe), OC, LLD, human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher and broadcaster (born 4 March 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; died 24 July 2001 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia). Sparked by incidents of racial discrimination, Carrie Best became a civil rights activist. Co-founder of The Clarion, the first newspaper in Nova Scotia that was owned and published by Black Canadians, she used the platform to advocate for Black rights. As the editor, she publicly supported Viola Desmond in her case against the Roseland Theatre. Best used her voice in radio and print to bring positive change to society in Nova Scotia and Canada.
Carrie Mae Prevoe grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in an era of racial discrimination. Although discrimination in Canada was less pronounced than in the United States, it was just as damaging and humiliating. Prevoe and her two brothers were encouraged by their parents, James and Georgina (Ashe) Prevoe, to study the history of African-Canadians and be proud of their Black heritage. Although they had not received good schooling themselves, the Prevoes emphasized the importance of education.
An intelligent child, Prevoe wrote her first poems at the age of four and often submitted her opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers as a teenager. Unhappy with the racial stereotypes portrayed in popular books and local culture, Best sought out the work of African-American poets and historians.
Observing the calm strength and dignity of her mother, Prevoe knew from an early age that she would not accept the restrictions to which Blacks were subjected. Career choices for young women, in general, were limited, and even fewer options were available for non-white women. Prevoe considered nursing, but no Canadian schools accepted African-Canadians. She wasn’t interested in a teaching career in one of Nova Scotia’s segregated schools. And she refused to be a housekeeper for anyone other than herself.
Carrie married railway porter Albert Theophilus Best on 24 June 1925. They had one son, James Calbert Best, and later welcomed several foster children into their family: Berma, Emily, Sharon and Aubrey Marshall.
In December 1941, Carrie Best heard that several high school girls had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre. The Black teens had attempted to sit in the “white only” section. Best was outraged. She vigorously argued against the racist policy to the Roseland Theatre’s owner, Norman Mason, in person and by letter, but her argument fell on deaf ears. It was time for Best to go to the movies.
A few days later, the 38-year-old and her son, Calbert, attempted to purchase tickets for the main floor of the theater. The cashier issued tickets for the balcony, the area reserved for Black patrons. Leaving the tickets on the counter, the mother and son walked into the auditorium. When the assistant manager demanded that they leave, the Bests refused and the police were called. Roughly hoisted from her seat by the officer, Best and her son were charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. Best could now take legal action against the theater.
Filing a civil lawsuit that specified racial discrimination, Best claimed damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat and breach of contract. Mason and the Roseland Theatre Company Ltd. claimed that the Bests were trespassers without tickets. The case, heard on 12 May 1942, failed: the proprietor’s right to exclude anyone won out over the bigger issue of racism. The judge not only ignored the discrimination but also ordered Best to pay the defendant’s costs.
However, Best was not defeated. The persistent problems of racism and segregation would be publicly addressed by something arguably more powerful than the legal system: Best started a newspaper.
In 1946, Carrie Best and her son, Calbert, founded The Clarion, the first Nova Scotia newspaper owned and published by Black Canadians. Initially a 20- by 25-centimeter broadsheet, The Clarion reported on sports, news, social activities and other significant events. Incorporated in 1947, the paper placed emphasis on better race relations. For a decade, The Clarion covered many important issues and advocated for Black rights. In 1956, it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation.