Black History Month
Black History Month Poster
Every February, we honour Black History Month by reflecting on the past and present contributions made and the challenges faced by Black people in Canada.
It is a time for Canadians to reflect and educates ourselves on Canada’s history of racism, and the ongoing effects of the enslavement and criminalization of Black people and people of African descent. It is also a moment for us to remember the legacies of Black activists and community leaders and their calls for justice and equality.
Black History Month began in the United States in 1926, thanks to the work and contributions of African American scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. In 1995, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month after a motion was introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine.
Unions have not always been a welcome place for Black workers in North America. Large labour unions and railway brotherhoods, some of which were affiliates of the American Federation of Labour (AFL), barred Black workers from joining. In fact, the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees (CBRE)’s constitution in 1908 specifically allowed only white members to join their union. Consequently, in 1917, Black porters from Winnipeg – John A. Robinson, J.W. Barber, B.F. Jones, and P. White – formed the Order of Sleeping Car Porters (OSCP), the first Black railway union in North America. Within two years, the OSCP were able to negotiate contracts for sleeping car porters. The actions of these labour leaders have made lasting impacts to Canadian labour history.
The ability to collectively bargain and improve the rights of workers in the workplace continues to be the most salient feature of trade and labour union activism. In celebrating Black History Month, we do so by honouring the important social changes led by Black labour activists, even when it highlights the inequities in society and within the labour movement. By learning this history, we learn to recognize the importance of combatting anti-Black racism in our labour activism and commit to collectively fighting racial injustices in our work to improve the rights of workers in Canada.
Further Reading and Additional Resources