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Black History Month: The Founder and The Trailblazers

Yves Tambwe

(Image via Association for the Study of African American Life and History)

Through his scholarly work, Carter G. Woodson had expressed the necessity for the education and preservation of black history in the early 20th century. The Harvard graduate, whose parents were former slaves, believed “that one race” had “not accomplished any more good than any other race, for God could not be just and at the same time make one race the inferior of the other,”. Woodson feared that “if you leave it to the one to set forth his own virtues while disparaging those of others, it will not require many generations before all credit for human achievements will be ascribed to one particular stock. Such is the history taught the youth today.”. These were the conditions that motivated Woodson to create Negro History Week in 1926; as history would have it, this celebration blossomed into Black History Month.

The observation of Negro History Week became popular among the Black communities in America before making its way up north. The recognition of Black History Month in Canada was first initiated by the Ontario Black History Association. Founded in 1978, the organization had successfully petitioned the city of Toronto and then the province of Ontario to observe February as a month of celebration for Black history. Co-Founder Daniel Hill explained that “one of the reasons we founded the Ontario Black History Society is because Black children from the islands, from the United States, from Africa have been told that they have no heritage here.”

In the early 1990s, Social Justice Advocate Rosemary Sadlier, became president of the OBHS. Not long after, Jean Augustine became the first Black Canadian woman to be elected to the house of commons. Both women collaborated in an effort to have Black History Month recognized federally. Rosemary Sadlier recounts this historic moment as such:

“I again approached Jean Augustine, at a fundraiser being held at Denham Jolly's home, to facilitate a national declaration. She agreed to do so, in the presence of Lloyd Perry, and the declaration was passed by December 1995. I was notified of the course of events and orchestrated a bus tour to Ottawa for the first national celebration of February as Black History Month. I was honored to bring remarks, on behalf of the Black community, at that momentous occasion with the Prime Minister and the Black Caucus in February 1996.”

As February comes and goes, it is important to remember the reason why we celebrate Black History Month. The trailblazers featured in this piece, understood that the omission of Black stories from history would lead to the erasure of their culture. The lack of education regarding Black history is not an issue that started in 1926, nor has it ended. It is ongoing even as I write this today. It is important to take this month to educate ourselves on the achievements of historical and contemporary Black figures, but it would be a mistake to rely on February to do so. Black history is Canadian history, and our education system should reflect that year-round.


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