How was Black History Month born?
For the past few years, we have been celebrating Black History Month by publishing stories about people and events surrounding this community. In 1926, in the United States, Dr. Carter G. Woodson initiated a Black History Week in February, which at the time was called Negro History Week. This month was chosen in honor of two great abolitionists of slavery, Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. For Dr. Carter G. Woodson, it was also important that the teaching of African history be done in a respectful way that was also more sensitive to diversity. So, in 1976, Black History Week became Black History Month in the United States.
In Canada, events unfolded differently. It was after the founding of Black History Month in the United States that initiatives were taken in Toronto. It was then that, in 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was created. This initiative was launched around a petition signed by Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks and presented to the City of Toronto, a success in the city. Subsequently, in 1993, Rosemary Sadlier, President of the OBHS, lobbied for the commemoration of Black History Month in the City of Toronto. Finally, in 1994, to build on this success, she decided to present to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada. In 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized Black History Month in Canada.
An even greater initiative was taken by the first Black appointee to the Senate, Donald Oliver. He submitted a request to recognize the contributions of Black Canadians, and the month of February as Black History Month, which was approved on March 4, 2008. Since 1995, “many Canadians believe that Parliament has officially recognized February as Black History Month, but they are wrong.” Donald Olivier made sure to formalize the position of the Parliament of Canada by recognizing February as Black History Month in the Senate.
Canada is proud to tell the world that it is a cultural mosaic, but the history taught here reflects only the culture of those who were in power. Black History Month is an opportunity for all of us to discover the stories not reflected in our history books of the Black men and women who helped build this country. It is also an opportunity to discuss uncomfortable truths, the realities faced by many Canadians of non-European origin.
Only by knowing all our history can we fight injustices and rejoice in one another.