The most important moment in Black history may not be in February at all.
Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, helped to have February recognized as Black History month. But she herself notes another moment in the calendar just as readily.
“Very recently, after 10 years of effort, we were successful in having Aug. 1 made Emancipation Day across the province of Ontario,” she said. It was this day in 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British empire.
A Toronto-born and raised author and mother of three, Sadlier has been involved with the Ontario Black History Society since the 1990s. Early on, she and the organization successfully campaigned to have Black History Month recognized nationwide.
“We also are the organization responsible for having initiated the first proclamation for Black History Month 30 years ago, so that’s what we do. We’re concerned about the framework as well as the content,” she said.
Black History Month is celebrated via events that remember and preserve the history of Blacks and those of African descent, as well as the legacies left behind.
Black History Month observances began in Toronto with a launch event on Jan. 30. Authors Karolyn Smardz Frost and Adrienne Shadd, descendant of Mary Ann Shadd, the first African woman who succeeded in publishing a newspaper in the 1850s, were part of a dialogue.
“It’s just wrong if people don’t know about our history as well as everybody’s history,” Shadd said.
“It’s a core part of preserving all of our heritages which is essential to all of us in terms of our sense of identity and how the city grew and how we feel about our place in the city,” Smardz Frost added.
The two authors, who have collaborated on works together in the past, talked about the research they had done on Blacks who lived in Toronto around the 1800s. They have written about the immigration of slaves and free Blacks to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
“It’s important for people of African descent…to know that there were black people here very early on who were very accomplished, who helped to build the city as we know it today,” Frost said.
Part of that building process, Sadlier said, includes educating youth, elementary and high school students with history lessons they might not hear in the classroom.
The younger students are taught more about the Underground Railroad, while high school students learn about more contemporary issues including racism.
But Sadlier also has a more mature readership in mind. Her soon to be released book, Black History: Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas, is geared towards an older audience.
“We try to live up to the reality of what February as Black History Month is about,” Sadlier said, “It’s supposed to be a pinnacle. It’s supposed to be a celebration, a culmination of what people have been doing all year.”