How Black History Month Became A Canadian Tradition
This month of February celebrates Black History Month. The inception of this historical custom involved the idea of one person and the support of many people to bring this to fruition.
In 1926, Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), shown above, was the first American historian to recognize the need to commemorate Black History and the contributions Black People made in shaping North America. Woodson initiated Black History Week in February coinciding with the birthdays of two historical figures he respected: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. For the next fifty years, every second week in February, Americans celebrated Black History.
In 1969, residing in Kent State University, an association called, The Black United Students petitioned the government for Black History Week to be celebrated for the full month of February. This request was fulfilled in an official ceremony in 1976, when Gerald R. Ford made the announcement to the nation.
In Canada, a parallel evolution occurred. Historica Canada provides a detailed account of how this tradition began here:
In Canada, this idea was first celebrated in Toronto by railroad porters within the Black community by 1950; the porters had learned of it on their travels in the United States. The Canadian Negro Women’s Association also hosted a few celebrations. It was not until the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was founded in 1978, and petitioned the City of Toronto by 1979 to have February proclaimed Black History Month that the celebration started to trickle into the entire community. The OBHS has successfully lobbied the federal government to have February declared as Black History Month. In December 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine, MP of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. (Historica Canada: Black History Canada)
Even though Black History Month may have taken almost two decades longer to achieve in Canada, the credit for its success depended on the support of Black communities and the Ontario Black History Society. Today, all of North America recognizes Black History Month.
If you are interested in participating in Black History Month events, the Toronto Public Library offers Programs, Classes, and Exhibits available at libraries across the city.
Here are more Canadian Black History events and websites worth perusing:
- The City of Toronto features Black History Month events featuring, “Journey to the Present”: A Black History Month Exhibit.
- 23 Historical Black Canadians You Should Know on Cbc.ca displays 23 pictorial biographies of famous Black Canadians.
- The National Film Board of Canada has a selection of NFB Films for Black History Month which are immediately available for viewing--with the click of a mouse or a single touch on your cellphone, you will be enjoying some artistic Black heritage. Shown below is a 7-minute animated movie called, The Magic Lion.
- The Virtual Reference Library has more recommended links available on Black Studies.
Here are some titles available for more information on the history of Black Canadians and Black Americans.
Here is a link to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day blog posted in January. Martin Luther King, Jr. plays an important role in Black History and is worth a second mention.
For those who enjoy music, Bob Marley's Redemption Song - The Canadian Connection blog provides entertaining information on Black history, art, and music culture.
Enjoy this month's celebrations and events to reflect on how far Black Canadians and Americans have strived and achieved through the pages of history.