Statement on the Significance of Black History Month

Dr. Malinda S. Smith, vice-provost (equity, diversity and inclusion)

Most of us recognize the names Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Whether through movies, books or monuments, we know their stories. We know the impact of the words and deeds these prominent Americans left on our shared history.

What of Lulu Anderson or Violet King – Black Canadians who were trailblazers in advancing civil rights in Alberta decades earlier than either American or other Canadian counterparts. Do you know their names? Can you share how their stories are part of Canadian history?

There is power in story and danger in the single story. That is why Black History Month is so important. We all need to understand the diversity and complexity of the Black historical experience here in Canada. We need to know the names of those who wrestled with systemic injustice, who fought for equality and who experienced adversity that was in itself distinctively Canadian.  We need to know our own Black stories.

  • Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to see ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at an Edmonton theatre in May of 1922. The staff denied her entry based on the colour of her skin. Lulu decided to stand up for racial justice. She sued the theatre.
  • Violet King Henry was born in Calgary to a family of Black pioneers. She was the first [MSS1] Black person in Alberta to graduate with a law degree, the first Black person to be called to the Alberta Bar in 1954 and the first Black woman lawyer in Canada. Throughout her career King advocated for women’s rights, women in leadership and equal pay for equal work.

Black History Matters

Black history is Alberta’s history. It is Canadian history. It’s about more than just learning of the people who shaped our province and country, individuals who are often left out of our history books, school curriculum, museums, science labs, and institutions. By remembering the hidden contributions of our ancestors, you also can take the time to challenge and unlearn some of the myths and biases you might hold.

I challenge you to research more about Black Canadian history, to discover the stories of Black Canadian pioneers and trailblazers and to share their contributions and impact with others.

The University of Calgary is hosting a series of engaging events throughout February. Webinars will celebrate history, literature, music, poetry, sports and culture. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the indomitable strength in the face of anti-Black racism, as well as give voice to the Black Canadians’ accomplishments that are too often absent from the public record. Please, take part in these webinars. Also consider ordering takeout from Caribbean or African restaurants or purchasing a book from a Black Canadian author.  

We learn about the past so that we may avoid its pitfalls and perils. We honour Black history so that we can also celebrate the talented Black leaders and innovators who continue to shape our society today.  

Find Black History Month events and stories from UCalgary.