The month of February is recognized as Black History Month, a month to celebrate the many achievements of Black Canadians and to acknowledge their struggles. In this article, we’d like to detail the origin of Black History Month, the month’s mission, and the ways we can celebrate it.
According to the Government of Canada website, in 1926, Carter G. Woodson—a Harvard-educated African American historian—established Negro History Week to “honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of Black history in the United States.” Negro History Week was chosen to be the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery, on February 12, and of Frederick Douglass, an illustrious African American abolitionist leader, orator, and statesman, on February 14. The week was termed Black History Week in the early 1970’s and “expanded into Black History Month in 1976.”
In 1995, the Honourable Jean Augustine introduced a motion to the House of Commons in Canada to officially recognize February as Black History Month. The motion was successful in December 1995. Augustine is an alumna of the University of Toronto where she received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education degree. She is “the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons, the first African-Canadian woman to be appointed to the federal Cabinet, and the first Fairness Commissioner of the Government of Ontario.” She was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2007 for her advocation of social justice and her contribution to Canada.
The first African Canadian man appointed to the Senate was Senator Donald Oliver—a lawyer, real-estate developer, and politician. He introduced a motion to recognize the contributions of Black Canadians in February 2008. The motion was adopted on March 4, 2008.
Black History Month is a time “when people of African ancestry can come together in memory of their rich past,” a time of acknowledging the discrimination and struggles African Americans and Canadians have been forced to endure. As stated on the University of Pacific website, Black History Month “is also an opportunity to correct many of the misrepresentations, misunderstandings and fallacies of African American culture. Black History month promotes opportunities for open dialogue and personal interactions between many cultures. These conversations and interactions can lead to a better understanding and appreciation for what experiences and daily dilemmas each of us goes through as we all try to make contributions to our families and our larger society.”
As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People explains, there are several ways to celebrate Black History Month, some of which include: supporting a Black business, spending time with a Black elder in the community, reading a book by a Black author, and attending a Black culture event. Individuals can also learn more about Black history, engage in productive conversations about Black culture and history on social media, and make a more concerted effort to counter racism and prejudice present in one’s community. The University of Toronto’s Black History 365 committee and the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office have “launched the Black History 365 Calendar to highlight events and programming across the tri-campuses to support [their] ongoing education and learning about the contributions of the Black community in Canada and throughout the world.” Students are encouraged to attend as many events as they can.