In 1969, the National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC) was formed shortly after the computer centre occupation at Sir George William University (now Concordia University) in Montreal. Known as the Sir George William Affair, several West Indian students protested the university’s lack of action concerning allegations of racial bias toward black students by one particular biology professor. Computer equipment and the computer lab itself were damaged and a fire ensued. Forty-one black students were arrested.
The NBCC was a coalition of twenty-eight black organizations, including church groups, cultural, athletic, community development and political groups. The NBCC was the first Canadian national civil rights organization addressing the social, economic and political barriers of the black community. Its mission was to:
“a) to ensure that the Black people of Canada achieve full social, political and economic participation in the shaping of humane society and moreover that Black people benefit fully from this society
b) to foster a national spirit of racial identity and solidarity and whenever possible to extend this empathy to black people in other parts of the world.
c) to eradicate all forms of racism and discrimination in Canadian Society. (National Black Coalition of Canada, 2) “(Walker, 2014, p. 9)
NBCC was based in Toronto and its first president was Howard McCurdy, a microbiology professor at the University of Windsor. McCurdy was the first tenured African-Canadian faculty member. The Honourable Jean Augustine sat on the board of the NBCC. Augustine also served as Treasurer for the Toronto chapter and co-Chair of the Media Committee with Hamlin Grange.
Notably, Wilson Head, then president of the NBCC, testified before the joint House Senate Committee on the Constitution regarding the Canadian Constitution in 1981. This Committee was tasked with hearing from the public about possible amendments to the Canadian constitution. According to James (2006), “with the exception of Japanese Canadians, national organizations representing racialized or “visible” minorities had not participated in official Canadian constitutional discussions before” (p. 79)
In 1979 the NBCC called for the suspension of the police officer who shot Albert Johnson. Later in 1981, the NBCC also testified before the joint House Senate Committee on the Constitution regarding the Bill of Rights.
The NBCC also provided a brief at a hearing of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) in 1980. In this brief they brought attention to the lack of representation of blacks on television and in advertisements as well as the lack of employment opportunities for blacks in the media.
In 1984, the organization collapsed due to internal strife and divisions as well as funding issues.
The National Black Coalition of Canada, this is a button you won’t find anywhere now because this is an organization that died in some way. It was very, very vibrant. What we were doing as black Canadians were really trying to mimic um, or to copy the American um, the American organization: the NAACP, the Nation Association of um, Coloured People. And so we worked really very hard in Canada to bring groups together, the black community together. We hoped at the time, the vision was to have blacks all across the country, that there’d be a national organization through which we would filter social programs, we would do different things. We would advocate on behalf of the concerns of black people right across Canada because what we knew at the time, what we know now is that the situation of African-Canadians wherever they are in this country is more or less the same. We face racism, we have difficulties in empowerment, we have difficulties with our young people; we have challenges. Whether you’re in Halifax, you’re in um, Calgary, or you’re in Vancouver or Toronto; we found that our situations were the same and we felt that a national organization will give us an opportunity to bring our voices together. And of course, the organization lived for awhile with really good leadership. There were people like Wilson Head, Dr. Wilson Head. There was Dr. Howard McCurdy from Windsor. There was Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré. There was Dorothy Wells from Montreal, and um, leadership all across the country. And when we came, we came together in conference, we’d meet in regions and then we’d come together. The national conference would be in one city and then move to another city. Very vibrant, very energetic, but of course um, as it says on the button, “Identity, Unity, Liberation” were more or less the themes of the work of the National Black Coalition of Canada. As I say, it’s no more as a national organization; we lost the impetuous for various reasons. One is how do you fund a national organization where you bring people from coast to coast to coast and you know the cost of running a national conference; the lack of necessary funding to support an organization. And also internal bickering around the question of leadership, there was a sense that those people who were in the leadership were a bit elitist by that there were voices that were saying “everyone who is an executive member is a doctor this and a doctor that [and that] we want our voices as the community to be in this organizing.” But what was missed was the fact that those people with leadership were also in a position to pay their way or to piggy back on things that they were doing and their professional life so that they could do the work that was so important. And so when we try to work in an office, a national office which we did have, it was really very difficult to keep the office open; to pay staff, to do the communication that was important to do. And so there were all kinds of um, sidebars and different things that somehow the organization had to close its doors.
Um, it would be in the um, in the 80s. It would be around—yeah, it would be in the 80s, had it went into demise. Um, there were chapters – chapters across the country. And I think a couple of the chapters remained alive. You know, there was a chapter that was going thinking one of the Western cities I think had a fax chapter that went for awhile. But I think right now we don’t have a National Black Coalition of Canada organization that speaks on behalf of all of the blacks in Canada.
Howard McCurdy to be invested in Order of Canada (2013, January 1). Windsor Star Retrieved from http://blogs.windsorstar.com/news/howard-mccurdy-to-be-invested-in-order-of-canada
James, M. (2006). Misrecognized materialists: Social movements in Canadian constitutional politics. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Suspend policeman, Black coalition urges. (1979, August 29). The Globe and Mail (1936-Current.) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1239261530?accountid=15182
Walker, A. African Canadians. In The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples (2011 ed.). Retrieved from http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/a16
Walker, B. (2014). The National Black Coalition of Canada: “Race,” and social equality in the age of multiculturalism. CLR James Journal, 20 (1):159-77.