Unearth Uncover #BlackedOutHistory: Segregated Schooling
Through waves of Black settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Southwestern Ontario became home to Canada’s largest Black population. Despite looking to Canada as a new beginning, the Black settlers faced intense racism from the white community in the area. ‘Sundown’ laws in Leamington and Kingsville meant Black people were threatened with violence if they were out after dark. Harrow had segregated restaurants and a whites-only movie theatre. Black children were often kept out of schools attended by white children or forced to sit in separate sections. White community members eventually pressured Superintendent of Education Egerton Ryerson to amend the Common School Act of 1850 to write these racially segregated schools into Ontario law.
From the beginning, Black parents spoke up and fought against school segregation. In 1843, a petition from "The Coloured People of Hamilton" was sent to the Governor General protesting the practice of segregated schooling for Black children. Letters were written by Black parents to Egerton Ryerson asking for an end to segregation. In 1883, J.L. Dunn challenged school segregation by sending his daughter to the local ‘white only’ public school in Windsor. Despite these ongoing protests, racially segregated schooling in Southwestern Ontario continued until the 1960s, when members of the community formed a lobby group called the South Essex Coloured Citizens’ Association to push for school integration. Leonard Braithwaite, elected in 1964 as the first Black MPP in Ontario, used his first speech in the Legislature to speak out against racially segregated schooling. His words drew media attention to the issue and the law was finally removed, marking the end of legal racial segregation in Canada and the closure of the last segregated school in 1965.
“Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover, and piece it together again.” – Dr. Afua Cooper