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November 22, 2013

Some Black History in Perspective

Fifty years ago in Mattawa on November 12, 1963, Dr. Firmin Monestime was elected as Canada’s first black mayor. The news spread across Canada and in key locations in the U.S. Mattawa, as seen in their museum, has had some remarkable individuals for a community its size. National leaders, athletes, artists, authors, entrepreneurs. Dr. Monestime is unique. Mattawa’s main street and the town’s Council Chambers are named after him.  He became mayor officially on January 1, 1964 and won 9 times until his death in 1977 . His achievements spread well beyond Mattawa. He was a widely active member of the Consevative Party, a member of the national executive and he ran to be president. The Algonquin Nursing Home which was founded by him and his wife Zena and daughter Vala has been a significant force in the community since 1975. 

Mayor Monestime on the main street of Mattawa.

There is a plan in the works in Toronto to recognize Dr. Monestime’s achievement during Black History Month next February with a possible Mattawa showing at the Mattawa Museum in the summer of 2014. 

I have written several articles on Dr. Monestime and a book about him – Where Rivers Meet: The Story of Dr. S.F. Monestime Canada’s First Black Mayor (For the articles Google Heritage Perspectives – Monestime and click on article titles). The book is available in many bookstores and online from our Past Forward Company Store.

Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the stories in the book that has relevance today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in August. A quarter million people in 1963 heard what many have said was the greatest speech ever made in America. King’s delivery style has been analyzed and his words repeated many times. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The large August 2013 assembly gathered at the Lincoln Memorial along with President Barack Obama and former Presidents Clinton and Carter to remember the speech 50 years ago. 

The coincidence of the King/Monestime dates is echoed in a reference in the Monestime book. Dr. Monestime’s family including his four children heard the King speech50 years ago and were especially moved by one of King’s statements. He said that he dreamed that he and his four children would “one day live in a nation where they would not be judged  by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

King in another speech said “Deep in the history of our struggle for freedom – Canada was the North Star – followed by the Underground Railway”. King gave the prestigious Massey Lecture in Canada in 1965 and was assassinated in 1967 at age 39. The struggle is not over but great strides have been made for the 2.5% of Canada’s 35 million population that is black 

Long Standing Black Senator Retires

Apropos the great strides, Donald Oliver Canada's first black male member of the Canadian Senate including several as Deputy Speaker retired last weekend, as is mandatory, on his 75th birthday after 23 years-currently the 4th longest standing member. He was an active lawyer before entering politics. Anne Cools was the first female black senator 4 years before Oliver. For more on these Senators Google their names .

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