Some origins of Toronto’s Black History Month

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday February 06 2013 in Opinion
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Once, way back in the early 1970s, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) infiltrated organizations of “Toronto’s Black radicals”. The RCMP used an FBI provocateur. He had also been used in the United States against the Black Panther Movement.


Looking back, and thinking of Black History Month (BHM) and its current activities, it is useful to recall those times, and as well, some of the “radicals” who hoisted a lonely torch which today is Toronto’s annually sponsored Black History Month activities.


Regarding the role played by the RCMP, the McDonald Commission (1977) exposed RCMP wrongdoings taken against Canadians. These included members of the Quebecois Separatists seeking “independence” from Canada. Among other “radicals” targeted by the RCMP were members of Toronto’s Black Student Union; organizers of the African Liberation Day Committee and, as well, organizers of Toronto’s Black History Month activities. The Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) was not yet founded.


The RCMP singled out some individuals relentlessly, including Rosie Douglas of “Sir George Williams University” fame. He was subsequently deported, but later elected Prime Minister of Dominica.


In an article, “Rosie the Red takes Power,” by Eric Siblin, “Until 1973, when the appeal court decision was handed down (to deport him), Rosie was out on bail, during which time he became the subject of RCMP surveillance. The Mounties borrowed Warren Hart, an undercover FBI agent who had penetrated the Black Panthers. He befriended Rosie as bodyguard and chauffeur.”


The RCMP’s Warren Hart, nicknamed “The General”, was quite brazen in infiltrating the Black community. One such occasion occurred after Angela Davis, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was released from prison. Her first Toronto engagement was in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto.


Who picked her up at the airport? Who was the chief bodyguard for the evening? Who also taped conversations between then federal Solicitor-General, Warren Allmand and Rosie Douglas? And who tried setting-up “Black radicals” for “weapons training” while in our homes nyaming down “bake and saltfish” on Christmas Day?


Who, for all his efforts; despite monied promises from his handlers, was deported…broke? The same “General”, revealing all before the Royal Commission’s 1977 hearings!


One can also think of the loyal, lesser-known stalwarts who annually mounted BHM activities, funding from their own meagre means. Black radicals notorious for calling public demonstrations, usually during rush-hour traffic downtown, without permits, against almost every public institution in Toronto: the capstone, Toronto’s Police.


Other areas that were the target of demonstrations included immigration, education, prisons and the courts. The stalwarts were often outnumbered by other members of the Black public who were bemused, not amused.


Black churches and pastors, as well as folk in our Black intelligentsia, either ignored these radicals, or denounced them in interviews as offenders of the peace. The stalwarts were derided as the uninformed, “lacking decorum”.


Back then, there was no Black History Month coffee klatches, ribbon cuttings and photo-ops. In fact, there was no Black History Month – only Black History Weekend – convened Friday nights, usually with an invited speaker, listed “from out of town” for special appeal. It all occurred at Bickford High School, opposite Christie Pits on Bloor Street, west of Bathurst Street.


A panel discussion would follow, along with a question and answer session and debate, especially between Maoist supporters of Communist China, opposing the organizing “revisionist” supporters of the Soviet Union. On Saturday nights, dances would be held “to raise funds”. The dances could begin at any time, and since the halls rented belonged to other communities, they could also end at an unceremonious 11 p.m.


On one occasion, Toronto’s finest raided a dance. They arrested a steaming pot of curry goat and rice, leaving the men as glum as Thanksgiving turkeys already consigned, and the women hastily buttering slices of Beckers’ white bread.


In my opinion, this is how today’s Black History Month Activities in Toronto and the surrounding conurbations sprang from such humble, unrecorded and uncertain beginnings.


And these “radicals lacking decorum”, could they live happily ever after?


To be continued.


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