OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month 2014

Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month 2014


February is Black History Month!

The Workers of Colour Caucus will be sharing some interesting facts about Black history in celebration of the month. Keep an eye on this page for new Black Facts which will be posted throughout February 2014.

February 28, 2014

Bromley Armstrong, CM, Ont, is a labour activist who has worked tirelessly to advance civil rights for African Canadians. He has worked with various organizations, including the National Unity Association and the Joint Labour Committee for Human Rights. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Armstrong was involved in activism to end segregation in places of business, particularly restaurants in Dresden, Ontario that refused to serve Black people. In response to the activism by delegations that included Armstrong, the Fair Employment Practices Act and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act were put in place. Armstrong used those laws to bring charges against the restaurant owners in Dresden, creating a test case that resulted in the law being successfully upheld. Armstrong became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994. Click here for more information about Bromley Armstrong.

February 27, 2014

Crispus Attucks, a former slave and dockworker, was the first American casualty of the Boston Massacre, a conflict between the American colonies and England in 1770. During a dispute between British soldiers and townfolk on March 5, 1770, Attucks and five other colonists were killed. Attucks was the first to die. This incident inflamed colonists further against the British in the lead up to the American Revolutionary War. Attucks in the 18th century became an icon of the anti-slavery movement. Click here for more information about Crispus Attucks.

February 26, 2014

During the American Revolution (1775-1783), Black Loyalists fought valiantly and received commendations for bravery and conduct. 3,500 of these fighters came to Canada after the war, having been promised land in exchange for fighting for the British. Most of them settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The War of 1812 soon followed, and once again, black slaves were promised freedom and land if they fought for Canada in the war. 2,000 black people came to Canada to fight against the United States, and were instrumental in helping to win the war. Click here for more information about the contribution of Black fighters to the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

February 25, 2014

Lynn Jones is a labour activist who grew up in Truro, Nova Scotia. From the time she was a child, she struggled against racism and segregation. She protested against the Vietnam war in university, and advocated for better access to post-secondary education for Black and Aboriginal students. Jones became a strong labour activist with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and then became the first woman of colour to be elected Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Click here for more information and audio clips of interviews with Lynn Jones.

February 24, 2014

Mathieu Da Costa was a freed slave who worked as a translator, and is said to be the first Black person to visit Canada. Da Costa translated French, Dutch, Portuguese, and First Nations languages. While Da Costa’s time in Europe explains how he learned the European languages, no one knows how he learned First Nations languages. It is speculated that Da Costa may have already spent time in America learning some of the languages, or that he may have used a Basque dialect. There is also evidence that Da Costa was outspoken and independent, which may have gotten him into trouble in France where he was jailed for some reason that may have involved being “insolent”. Click here for more information about Mathieu Da Costa.

February 21, 2014

History was made on July 9, 1893 when the first African-American cardiologist performed the first successful open heart surgery. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was an instructor at Northwestern University and a practicing physician. Dr. Williams joined the Illinois State Board of Health in order to address the fact that Black patients were experiencing racist discrimination. He founded the Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School in 1891, and this South Side Chicago hospital still stands today. Click here for more information about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.

February 20, 2014

Not too many people know that one of the earliest traffic signals, as well as belt fasteners for sewing machines was invented by a Black man by the name of Garrett Morgan. Morgan had a sewing machine and shoe repair shop, the first of many businesses he would own. He invented a safety hood, which he used to rescue workers who were trapped in a tunnel being dug under Lake Erie, and founded the National Safety Device Company in 1914. He also launched the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, which sold hair care products. Both companies were quite successful. Garrett was a great inventor and community leader who was a founder of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, and he received many awards and recognitions for his work. Click here for more information about Garrett Morgan.

February 19, 2014

Benjamin Banneker was the first person to invent the farmer’s almanac in the late 18th century. His education was mostly self-taught. He made astronomical calculations that enabled him to successfully forecast the 1789 solar eclipse. He was also a part of the surveying team that laid out Washington D.C. For his almanacs, he did all the astronomical calculations himself to predict tides and eclipses, and he used his scientific knowledge to provide medical information in them as well. Banneker was an anti-slavery activist who wrote to Thomas Jefferson, chastising him for owning slaves. Click here for more information about Benjamin Banneker.

February 18, 2014

Yvonne Atwell is the first Black woman to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia. Atwell served as President of the African Canadian Caucus, as well as the Black United Front of Nova Scotia, which engaged in community organizing and activism around issues of employment, housing, education, and police brutality against people of colour. Atwell is now the Director of the African-Canadian Employment Clinic in Halifax, and the Vice President of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. Click here for more information about Yvonne Atwell.

February 14, 2014

Henry T. Sampson is a pioneer in the technology used in cell phones today. He was the first African-American chemical engineering graduate, and then became the first African-American to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering in the U.S. After discovering that many engineering firms would not hire African American engineers, Sampson started working for Aerospace Corp in 1967, and eventually became the Director of the Directorate of Space Test Programs there. He was the senior engineer responsible for launching and space operations for several satellites. Sampson owns a number of patents, and was the inventor of gamma-electric cell, which converts high-energy gamma rays into electricity. Sampson is the author of seven successful books and has earned many awards in his field. Click here for more information about Henry T. Sampson.

February 13, 2014

Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree and then her Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from New York University in 1984, with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues. When she returned to Canada, she held several prominent positions: the Director of the Ontario Women’s Directorate, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the first woman Ombudsman of Nova Scotia, and Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. Click here for more information about Mayann Elizabeth Francis.

February 12, 2014

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, PC, CC, OOnt, CD, QC, was a Canadian politician and statesman who served as a Member of Parliament and as the federal Minster of Labour. He later became the first black Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Alexander fought for Canada in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. In 1968 he became the first Black Member of Parliament in Canada as Progressive Conservative MP for Hamilton West Electoral District. Alexander held that seat for 4 consecutive terms until stepping down in 1980. He was born in Toronto in 1922 and died in Hamilton, Ontario in 2012. Click here for more information about Lincoln MacCauley Alexander.

February 11, 2014

In many books and news articles, it was claimed that Robert Peary was the first person to set foot on the North Pole, but the fact is, it was actually his assistant, Matthew Henson. Henson and Peary were partners in many historical explorations. On April 6, 1909, they reached the North Pole. Peary had to rest three miles from the Pole, which made Henson the first American to reach the North Pole. Click here for more information about Matthew Henson.

February 10, 2014

Dr. Anderson Abbott was born in Toronto. His family was wealthy and owned over 50 properties in Toronto. Dr. Abbott became the first Canadian-born Black licensed doctor in 1861. He used his skills to serve in the American Civil War and then later on as a civilian surgeon in several Washington D.C. hospitals. One of his many experiences was caring for the dying President Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Abbott returned to Toronto and then moved to Chatham where he was appointed coroner for Kent County, while advocating for integrated schools. Click here for more information about Dr. Anderson Abbott.

February 7, 2014

In 1946, Black Nova Scotian Viola Davis Desmond challenged segregation in Canada nine years before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery Alabama, by sitting in the whites-only ground section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, instead of the balcony reserved for Black people. Desmond was arrested and convicted for tax evasion for not having paid the one cent extra tax that a ground section ticket cost. When she appealed the conviction, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia upheld her conviction. Desmond was posthumously pardoned in 2010 by the Province of Nova Scotia. Click here for more information about Viola Desmond.

February 6, 2014

Dr. Calvin Ruck, C.M, LL.D., was a smart and hardworking man who experienced plenty of nonsense due to ignorance, as did many other people of colour. He overcame that ignorance and nonsense by purchasing a home where many other residents disagreed with Black people residing. Due to the negative experiences he and his family faced, he decided to serve on the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission during the 1980’s. His campaign to have World War I hero Jeremiah Jones recognized was successful, and resulted in a posthumous medal awarded to Jones, and a permanent cairn erected at Pictou, Nova Scotia. He was appointed the Senate in 1998, and became the third African-Canadian Senator. Click here for more information.

February 5, 2014

Frederick Douglass was a civil rights activist and advocate for enslaved Africans in America. He was born Feb 1818 and passed away Feb 1895. He spread the word of freedom, travelled to England where his success allowed him to raise awareness and have his freedom purchased, and then returned to the USA. Once back in America, he started a newspaper called the North Star. Douglass also supported the involvement of former slaves in joining the Union side during the American Civil War. Click here for more information about Frederick Douglass.

February 4, 2014

Mary Ann Shadd was an activist who followed in the footsteps of her parents, who were part of the Underground Railroad. Mary Ann, whose family settled in Windsor, Ontario, had written education booklets outlining the advantages of Canada for settlers willing to work, and the need for living within one’s means. She opened up an integrated school in Windsor for those who could attend. She then moved to St. Catharines, and next Toronto, where she met and married widower Thomas Cary. Later on she created the Provincial Freeman newspaper, becoming the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper. She then became the only woman to attend the First Convention of Colored Freemen, held outside of the US, and worked as a recruitment agent to support the Union side during the American Civil War. Click here for more information about Mary Ann Shadd.

February 3, 2014

Dr. Charles Drew was an honour student at McGill University Medical School in Montreal. He excelled in academics and sports, and specialized in physiological anatomy. He researched blood plasma and transfusion in New York. His work and discoveries relate to the preservation of blood, and separating the liquid red blood cells from the near solid plasma and freezing the two separately for later usage. Dr. Drew’s system for storing blood plasma is now known as blood banking, and has revolutionized the medical profession. Click here for more information about Dr. Charles Drew.