Monday, February 04, 2019

Something to read for Black History Month

Black History Month seems to be working. Cecil Foster's They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Railroad Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada isn't quite published yet, and already it's listed as out of stock at Biblioasis, the lively little publishing house in Windsor that has begun venturing into historical nonfiction.

The title sounds... ambitious. But the excerpt in the Globe and Mail last Saturday argues effectively that the porters were not just a remarkable community of labour. As almost the only organized black network in Canada for a long time, they launched campaigns for non-racist immigration policies and civil rights for African-Canadians.
Following the Second World War, Mr. Grizzle and his fellow porters fought to create a new Canada by embodying a citizenship that reflected the diversity and dignity of humanity itself. They battled to normalize what is now routine, and even taken for granted, in our daily living: Black workers holding a wide range of jobs, including civil-service positions, and black people from Africa and the West Indies immigrating and becoming citizens of Canada.
We should always remember this was not a fight they were sure to win. We should also not forget that Canada wasn’t originally intended to be a multicultural society. Official multiculturalism was a fluke of history, and some thought of it as democracy gone wrong. Against great odds, the sleeping car porters sacrificed themselves and all they had, figuratively speaking, to put a stick in the wheels of a Canada headed in a different direction. The train porters turned Canada black, brown and a host of other shades. Yet this important piece of Canadian history has yet to be fully told.
More on black history and Black History Month in Canada: Black History Canada
Photo: CN Collection, Museum of Science and Technology via Globe & Mail
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