Black History Month| Canadian Edition
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela
Today marks the first day of the month-long commemoration and celebration of Black people and history in North America. February is the month both the US and Canada acknowledge Black History Month, and in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland BHM is recognized in October.
The celebration of Black History Month initially began as “Negro History Week,” which was created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 who was an African-American historian and educator. It became a month-long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (known for escaping slavery and being a leader in the abolitionist movement) and Abraham Lincoln (who was known as the 16th American president and issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved Black people).
Most people associate BHM with the US and often recount the history of enslavement of African people as an American “thing” which allows Canada to slickly slip under the radar as they perceive themselves as the ‘do-gooders’.
Canada prides itself on being the final stop in the underground railroad for African Americans escaping from slavery. Because of this, we forget or attempt to erase the history with slavery, so here is a little reminder.
The purpose of slavery in Canada, much like America, was to fuel the economy by using enslaved people. Slavery was first introduced in Canada by French colonists in the 1600s and was abolished by British North America in 1834. Although slavery started with the French colonists, the difference is when the Britains took over, the number of enslaved Indigenous people declined and the number of enslaved Black people increased. Slavery existed in Canada for two centuries and ended only 30 years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in the US.
Black history is significant because Black people had a major impact on the development of North America albeit against their will and freedom. Additionally, there is a trend of erasure and whitewashing of Black people’s history in Canada. The Canadian education system inadequately covers the basics as well as the significance of Black history in this country. As a result, most Canadians don’t have a clue about Black history or Canada’s history of slavery. This is deeply troubling and goes back to the trend of Canada’s inclination to indoctrinate major historical events (ex. Indigenous history).
Black Canadians is a term generally used to describe three groups of people: Caribbeans, African-American descents, and African immigrants. Many people don’t realize the history of the different groups of Black people and their movement throughout Canada.
Black history should not only be about the accomplishments, inventions, innovations of Black pioneers and entrepreneurs (though those aspects should be heavily celebrated). However, it should also be about the history, legacy, oppression, inequality, and the extreme barriers Black people had to overcome to accomplish their achievements.
Happy Black History Month!