By Lucia Doménica
Latincouver is always thinking about the best ways to ease your arrival to this beautiful country, but not only that! We also remember symbolic dates that exist to make us understand how important it is to fight for equality to change the course of our History. That’s why in February, we must celebrate the Black History Month.
Black History Month allows us to celebrate and learn about the many achievements, investments, and contributions of Vancouver’s Black and African diasporic communities, even while these communities have endured historical and continuing inequality, oppression, and erasure.
Every February, people across Canada and the United States participate in Black History Month events and festivities that honor the legacy of Black people in the communities.
The 2023 theme for Black History Month is: “Ours to tell.” This theme represents both an opportunity to engage in open dialogue and a commitment to learning more about the Black communities’ stories in Canada have to tell about their histories, successes, sacrifices, and triumphs.
No matter where you live, we invite all Canadians to learn more about these communities and how they continue to help shape Canadian History.
About Black History Month
During Black History Month, people in Canada celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout History, have done so much to make Canada a culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country.
Black History in Canada
Black Canadians and their communities have shaped Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator, and interpreter, whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s.
For a long time, the History of the black population in Canada did not seem as crucial for the country’s development. There is little mention that some of the Loyalists who came here after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were people of African descent, nor the fact that many soldiers of African descent made many sacrifices in wartime as far back as the War of 1812.
Part of the population in Canada does not recognize the struggle of African people who were enslaved and still suffered discrimination. The black community has an essential role in the resistance and the fight for a diverse and inclusive society.
Black History Month is a time to learn more about these Canadian stories and the many other vital contributions that Black Canadians and their communities have made to the History and continued growth of this country.
Recognizing Black History Month in Canada
In 1978, the first Black History Society (OBHS) was created in Ontario. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson, petitioned the City of Toronto to proclaim February as Black History Month formally. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto.
The first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed in 1988 and later renamed African Heritage Month in 1996.
In 1993, the OBHS filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. Following that success, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, introduced the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by Dr. Augustine. The House of Commons carried the action unanimously.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was officially adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption of this motion completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month.
The significance of Black History Month
February 1 marks the first day of Black History Month. Black History is a rich history; it is American History. It is deeply woven into the fabric of American society. But not only in America, but Black individuals have also contributed to our global community. Black History is one of profound legacy, culture, innovation, and resilience.
This time brings one more reason to recognize, fully understand and appreciate the role Black innovators and leaders occupy in History, many of whom changed the way we use technology today. As visionaries enduring centuries of great adversity, they have demonstrated incredible resilience in overcoming obstacles to advance our society. Black History Month reminds us of our past and allows us to pay tribute to our ancestors whose shoulders we stand on today.
Black History Month also reminds us of the ongoing challenges and pain that we still face nowadays, like the recent tragic murder of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who was savagely beaten and killed at the hands of police officers in Memphis, U.S. As we all know, The dichotomy of Black History, past and present, is an unspeakable tragedy and monumental success.
Bayard Rustin, a Black civil, social, nonviolence, and gay rights activist, once said, “We are all one — and if we don’t know it, we’ll learn it the hard way.” Our goal is to make Black History Month a time to collectively honor the rich History and accomplishments of the Black community and to have meaningful and sometimes uncomfortable conversations to combat discrimination, prejudice, and violence.
Significant Figures in Black History Month
You can learn about famous Black leaders and innovators together, such as the two notable examples below.
Martin Luther King Jr. was known for leading many of the Civil Rights Movement protests. He worked as a preacher, using this experience to deliver some of the most enduring speeches we know today. Leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott and pioneering the civil rights movement’s non-violent protests were just a few of the ways he significantly impacted History before he was murdered on April 4, 1968.
Rosa Parks made a stance against unfair racial treatment on buses. In the 1950s and 60s, public transport was separated into the “Black section” and the “White section.” On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks sat in the front seat of the bus’s black section – the back of the bus. The front of the bus began filling up, and eventually, no more seats were left in the “White” section. She was asked to move further back into the back of the bus to make space for the white commuters. She refused. The police were called. Along with Martin Luther King, Jr., she helped begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted over a year.
James Baldwin is iconic in the literary world and during the Civil Rights Movement for shedding light on the racial oppression towards black United States citizens. His plays, short stories, and books introduced characters that many non-black individuals could use to understand their differences better and stand behind those fighting for justice and safety. Some of his works include: “Sonny’s Blues,” “The Amen Corner,” and “Nobody Knows My Name.”
Black History Month in Latin America
Latin countries have African ancestors, frequently disregarded as part of Black History.
While Black History Month is celebrated officially throughout February, it should be an everyday effort to uplift Black voices and celebrate Black stories. It’s also important to acknowledge that both the United States and Latin America have a history of overlooking the achievements of Black folks.
We typically associate Black History Month with African-Americans. Since this is common, what does Black History have to do with the Latin community? There is a tendency to view “black” and “Latin” as separate entities, as if they have nothing to do with each other. However, there are significant populations of Latins throughout the countries of Latin America who are of African descent. These African- descended Latins are commonly referred to or self-identify, primarily in the U.S., as “Afro-Latins.”
With that said, what do African-Americans and Afro-Latins have in common? We are black! Yet there is not nearly enough mention of the Afro-Latin experience in the U.S. during this commemorative month. Looking back on our History, African-Americans and Afro-Latins share a common lineage. The conversation about the History of the transatlantic slave trade and the experience of enslaved people usually focuses on those who went to the U.S., especially in the South of the country. However, only approximately 400,000 out of the 10.7 million enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage arrived in the U.S. throughout the transatlantic slave trade. Thus, most Africans who survived the voyage to the Americas arrived in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The Africans who arrived in the U.S. and Latin America significantly impacted the African-American, Afro-Latin, and broader communities. Their descendants continue to preserve, shape and maintain the influence left behind by their ancestors, from music to food, literature, and the arts to religion.
In Brazil, half of the population has African ancestry.
There is an estimate that 80 million people in Brazil have African descendants, which corresponds to 48 percent of the total population of the country. However, the official Census statistic from 1991 stated that the number of Afro-Brazilian are around 65 million.
Africans preserved their cultural heritage and religions. The speech of African people richly influenced Brazilian Portuguese and a new Afro-Brazilian vocabulary developed. African religions survive in Brazil today.
Many Afro-Brazilians are becoming aware of the degree to which their socio-economic, political, cultural, and religious identities have been suppressed. Hundreds of black consciousness and civil rights organizations are working today. The Afro-Brazilian press started in 1933 with the publication of A Voz da Raça. Many community-based magazines include the Raça, Írohín, and the online journal Afirma Revista Negra. These magazines act as catalysts for organizing, claiming rights, and fighting racism. The television station T.V. da Gente, launched in November 2005 by celebrity Jose ‘Netinho’ de Paula Neto, has contributed to the increasing visibility of African descendants in the media.
While some Afro-Brazilians see racism as primarily a cultural problem to be solved through the development of black identity, others believe the struggle against racism must seek to change economic, social, and political structures. The Afro-Brazilian movement has contributed significantly to policy changes in all of these areas to improve the quality of life of black Brazilians.
The legacy and impact of organizations led by Black women in Canada
Through nearly four centuries in what is now Canada, Black women have shaped their own identities while taking decisive actions to advance the survival, preservation, and growth of countless families and communities across the country. As advocates and catalysts for change, Black women have created many essential organizations with advanced equity and human rights.
Midwives in African Nova Scotian Communities
People of African descent have been in Nova Scotia since the early 1600s. More extensive migrations came from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. Through the early days of struggle, Black communities had to be self-reliant. As such, Black midwives were an essential part of the African Nova Scotian existence, as they helped to bring new generations of babies into the world.
Midwives left their homes at any hour of the night under many conditions to aid in the safe arrival of babies. Arriving with satchels in hand, their tools were clean clothes, scissors, and usually something to assist in making a meal. These women came not only to help with labor but also helped maintain the family home and often stayed until the mothers were back on their feet.
Their experience, courage, and, ultimately, their faith guided them through regular deliveries and challenging birth situations. Their goals were to ensure babies took their first breath and to keep hope even when the Doctor present had given up on a baby. Midwives went where required, which sometimes took them into the surrounding white communities to assist with deliveries when the Doctor could not make it. Within Black communities in Nova Scotia, midwives delivered generations of babies well into the 1960s.
Colored Women’s Club, Montreal
A group of Black women who, because other groups were not open to women of African descent, founded their social Club in 1902 called the Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal. From the beginning, members of the Club focused on the needs of their community in the city’s St. Antoine (Little Burgundy) district. The Black women who formed the Club were following the examples of African American women such as Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Mary Church Terrell, among others, who had created the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs which was founded in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 1896.
During the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression, the Coloured Women’s Club helped to organize, feed, shelter, and care for needy community members. Their benevolent and charitable work was recognized in 1997 by the Ministère des relations avec les citoyens de l’immigration du Québec. The Anne Greenup Solidarity Prize is named in honour of the Club’s first president. It is given to individuals or organizations contributing to networking, generational solidarity, civic engagement, and belonging.
Canadian Negro Women’s Association
Based in Toronto, Ontario, the Canadian Negro Women’s Association was initially formed in 1951 under the name Canadian Negro Women’s Club. The Association was dedicated to public education about Black History, providing scholarships to deserving Black students, and eventually organizing the Calypso Carnival (precursor to the Caribana Festival) as a fundraiser for other service projects. The Association was a key player in creating the Congress of Black Women of Canada.
Congress of Black Women of Canada
The Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) was first convened in Toronto, Ontario, in 1973 under the sponsorship of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA), which was organized in 1951. (Its original name was the Canadian Negro Women’s Club and was founded by President, Mrs. Kay Livingstone, Executive Recording Secretary, Mrs. Aileen Williams; Treasurer, Mrs. Audrey Grayson). Through their discussions, it became apparent that there was a need for a national organization that could address issues facing Black women in Canada. In 1974, the Montreal Regional Committee was founded (eventually becoming the first chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada). 2 years later, the delegates at a conference in Halifax set up a national organization. In 1977, a National Steering Committee was established in Windsor to build a communication network and draft a constitution and an organizational structure. In Winnipeg in 1980, the national organization was launched, the constitution ratified, and a national executive council was selected.
The Congress of Black Women remains dedicated to improving the lives of all Black women and their families in their local and national communities.