Video

Narrator: The Second World War and its aftermath represented a period of renewed hope for African Canadians. The draft and enlistment of thousands of Canadian men, and some women as well, left the factories with a need for labour. Factories which manufactured equipment, ammunition and other war needs were also looking for labourers to fill their requirements. African Canadians, women and other groups filled this need, bringing them into the mainstream workforce for the first time.

In the meantime, as during the First World War, African Canadians attempted to enlist in the army and air force. At the beginning of the war, some were turned away, but by 1940-41, African Canadians were part of the draft movement to recruit soldiers. However, some branches of the service were still viewed as off limits.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator : Jim Braithwaite, just a teenager when the war broke out, describes what happened when his brother, Daniel, went down to the recruiting office to enlist in the air force.
Jim  Braithwaite
What happened, back in 1940, my brother Danny wanted to the join the air force so he went down to the recruiting office in Toronto and they told him at the time that they weren’t recruiting any more people because their quota had been reached and it would probably be open again in another month. So Danny came back home, and the next day, the ad’s in the paper again wanting young men to join the air force, so he knew that something was going on. He went back to the recruiting office in a week’s time and at that time, they said, no they’re not recruiting at the time but they have him on a list and they’ll let him know. My brother said to them, “What happens if I get conscripted within the next month or so, what do I do?” He said, “Oh don’t worry, if you get conscripted, you come back to us and we’ll get you into the air force.” He said, “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “That’s fine.” My brother went home, and after two months, sure enough, he got a letter, he was conscripted into the army. He went back to the air force with the letter, and the air force looked at it and said, “We’re very sorry, we cannot take you into the air force because the army is the senior service and they have priority in recruitment. So, therefore, you have to go into the army because they have priority over us. Now, what you can do is, in the army you can ask for a transfer, and perhaps, if they’re willing, they’ll give you a transfer.”
            My brother was extremely angry after this. He knew what was going on. It was a pure case of discrimination, and he told them this. He said he was not going into the army, he was going to make an issue of the situation. So he went back home, went to work for about six months. In six months time, the army was looking for him. They came to the house asking for Daniel Braithwaite. “He’s at work.” So they waited until he came home, and they said, “We’ve been looking for you for six months and you’re AWOL and we’ll have to take you in because you’re a deserter.” My brother told the story to the military police. They were sympathetic but they could not do anything about it. In the meantime, my mother, seeing these two big policemen, said, “You’re not gonna take my son,” and she takes this broom and tries to get them out of the house. It was extremely funny, but it was serious. She says, “Get out of my house, you’re not touching my boy.” And these two big fellows couldn’t do anything. They just waited and waited, and my brother says. “Don’t worry, call Lawyer Pitt [B.J. Spencer Pitt, a Black lawyer in Toronto], let him know the story and we’ll get this thing straightened out.” And then he told Lawyer Pitt what happened and Pitt got on the phone, and called the Army and explained the situation. They said they could not do very much at the time, but he can present his case. In the meantime, my father phoned Ottawa, because he was a good CCF man, and explained what happened to M. J. Coldwell, who was the leader of the CCF party. Coldwell said he would bring it up in the House of Commons and ask what’s going on with the recruitment situation. At that time, the Minister of Defense, I think his name was Mr. Powler said, “Do not bring it up in the House. I can straighten the whole situation out very easily. We do not want to jeopardize the recruitment situation, particularly now that the war is just starting and we have to keep things under control.” So it did not get into the House of Commons but the Defense Minister called Toronto, and apparently, the young man in the recruiting office had taken it upon himself to do this.
            In the meantime, my Dad said to me, “They claim now that they’re recruiting everyone as long as you’re qualified. So he said to me, “Jim, go down there and see if they’re telling the truth.” I had no idea of getting into the air force, no plans of getting into the army because I was just 19 and just finishing school. I told him, I says, “I don’t want to go into the air force.” “Boy, you do what I tell you.” So what happens, you have to picture this, in those days when your father is telling you to do something, you did it or else leave home. So I went down to the recruiting office and lo’ and behold, within an hour or hour and a half, I was in the air force.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator:  Jim Braithwaite served as part of the ground crew which fuelled and serviced American fighter planes. Daniel Braithwaite, on the other hand, never realized his dream of serving in the air force.

Jim Braithwaite Pt 2: 
He never got into the air force, by the way. He got into the army and he was trying to get the transfer, and when he was in [cannot make out], Nova Scotia he got injured in training and they gave him an honourable discharge.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator: Getting into the service was one thing, but treatment once in was quite another. Jackie Washington, Hamilton’s own jazz and blues legend, describes his experience from 1941 to 1943, when he was discharged from the army.

Jackie Washington Pt 1

For one thing, I was the only Black in that regiment. And every time the officer would come in everyday. We had a captain and a lieutenant and a 2nd lieutenant, you know. But every time they came in, there was a joke about being Black, about me. So I told them, I said, “Look, I don’t like this.”
“Oh, we’re just having fun.”
I said, “I don’t like it.”
But it didn’t stop them anyway. They still thought they were smart. So I thought, well, I’m going to be smart, now. Then we get the order we’re going out, we’re leaving basic training – Number 20 in Brantford. Go to Barrie field, Kingston, by train. We got there and it was a hot day. So we’re standing in the parade square with all this equipment on, here comes the regimental sergeant major, the officer of the day was the second lieutenant, first lieutenant, two captains, a Major, Lieutenant Colonel and they’re inspecting all the troops. So when they get to the end of the line and look down the line to see if the guys are all standing straight, you know. When they get to mine why they looked down, “Captain Black,” he said. They all started to laugh. Oh, I was alerted, I knew then, sure enough, when they got down to me.
“Washington…”
I said, “Yes sir?”
“I see you’re not well.”
I said, “I beg your pardon?”
He said, “You’re not well. You’re looking kind of pale.”
They all had a laugh. I laughed with them, yeah. They went on. So after a while, the regimental sergeant major says, “Everybody for sick bay, fall out over here.”
So, I fell out over there. Here come the ambulance, they take us to Kingston military hospital, give me a bed and everything. I eat three meals a day. About a week later, a nursing sister came in with a chart. She says, “Washington, I’ve got your chart here, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with you.”
I said, “Well, I didn’t say there was anything wrong with me.”
She said, “Well, how did you come to get in here?”
I said, “Well, Captain Black told me that I was sick and he’s a commissioned officer. He knows far more than I’ll ever know.”
“Oh,” she said, “He was just joking. You’re just swinging the lead. Get your things and get the hell out of here, thank you.” [Laughter]

Narrator
:  Jackie Washington got the last laugh when he decided to fake another illness by swallowing raisins. They appeared on the x-ray as stomach ulcers. He was immediately discharged.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator: Here is Mr. Jackie Washington singing “Ration Blues.”

Jackie Washington

© Jackie Washington


Video

Narrator: A new militancy was building among Black men and women who got jobs for the first time in factories. They were not willing to relinquish their new positions for the menial jobs of earlier decades. Black servicemen who had risked their lives for their country overseas were also in a fighting mood on the home front. Wilma Morrison, who more recently spearheaded the movement to preserve the Nathaniel Dett BME Chapel in Niagara Falls was part of the young people’s group at Stewart Memorial Church in Hamilton during the 1940s. She tells of the sit-ins they conducted in Hamilton restaurants and at the popular skating rink to ensure that Black people would not be denied service.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Wilma Morrison: Reverend J. C. Holland was our mentor and a wonderful man – well-recognized by the entire community of Hamilton, but he was our minister at Stewart Memorial Church. People would come in from time to time – people would have unfortunate incidents at restaurants and things like that – and they would come and tell us about it. And so, what we would do is we’d get all dressed and we’d go as a group to the various restaurants. And I can’t remember the names of any of them – they’ve probably all gone out of business now anyway – but we were never refused service when we went as a group. And it seemed after that – we’d do little trials where a couple would go in – and we wouldn’t be refused. We went to maybe three or four different restaurants at varying times. And then someone said that the skating rink, the Alexandra – I remember that well – wouldn’t allow people in. People had gone singly and sometimes as couples, and they had been turned away. So we decided that we would book it. Oliver Holland, who was Reverend Holland’s son, booked it in the young people’s name. Our young people’s group was all he said. He didn’t say what church, because automatically they would have known. We decided we would all meet at the church and we would go as a group together, and we arrived at the door and the poor doorman had a fit.
“Oh,” he said, “I think there’s been some mistake.”
Oliver said, “No, there hasn’t been any mistake.” Oliver was a lawyer, and he said, “No, we booked for the young people’s department and we told you we would be here at 7 o’clock.”
“Oh,” he said, “I’ll have to call my boss.”
So he called his boss and she said, “Don’t let them in.”
So he came back to us and said that the boss had said that we were not to be allowed in. So, I think they thought that we would just get up and go home, but we didn’t. We stayed there, and every time someone opened the door to come in skating, we said, “I’m sorry, we’re closed.” And so they lost the business for that evening. What a stupid thing! So she paid a little bit of a price for being stupid.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator: By 1954, the Fair Accommodation Practices Act, outlawing discrimination in public places was passed in Ontario, in part due to actions taken by such groups as the youth group at Stewart Memorial, the National Unity Association in Chatham and Dresden as well as the Jewish Labour Committee and other groups pressing for human rights legislation. The fight to pass legislation ending discrimination in employment is outlined by retired Citizenship Court Judge Stanley G. Grizzle, who was actively involved in this movement.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Stanley G. Grizzle: In the 1940s Negro railway sleeping car porters organized into trade unions and agitated for federal and provincial legislation outlawing discrimination in employment and promotions, as well as accommodation. At that time, there were 20-25 international trade unions with constitutional provisions barring Black membership.
The organization in Canada and the United States of America largely responsible for awakening the labour movement to the realization of its responsibility to attack all forms of discrimination and segregation in no uncertain terms was the Jewish Labour Committee who, under the direction of Mr. Kalmen Kaplansky, carried on an effective educational program among trade unions in Canada.
By 1951, the Toronto C.P.R. Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had set up its own Human Rights Committee chaired by me, and some of the early members were Desmond Davis, Edward Brown, Lester Brown, Leo Chevalier, Robert Willis, Len Johnston, Fred Sloman, Ernest Stinson, John W. Jackson and G. H. Brown. After hundreds of telephone calls, letters, committee meetings, demonstrations, union meetings and conferences, with porters’ unions being the largest Black organization at the front of the line agitating for anti-discrimination legislation – with great support of other unions, as well as churches and community groups – we were blessed with the following: in 1951, the Ontario Fair Employment Practices Act was passed; in 1953, the Canada Fair Employment Practices Act was passed; in 1954 the Ontario Fair Accommodation Practices Act was passed and in 1955, the Canada Fair Accommodation Practices Act was passed. Now we should be reminded that FEP, again Fair Employment Practices legislation, is the brainchild of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters and, thus, the gift of the porters to Canada and the United States of America.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator: As with the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951, the Fair Accommodation Practices Act of 1954 had to be tested, for those who discriminated continued to do so after the Act was passed. This is when Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association stepped up their efforts by testing the law in two restaurants in Dresden, Ontario.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Video

Narrator: The agitation and pressure put on the government by the Black community in conjunction with progressive labour, the Jewish Labour Committee and the Canadian Jewish Congress must be seen as heralding a new era of human rights and freedoms for people of all backgrounds, freedoms that we take for granted today. The work of Donald Moore and the Negro Citizenship Association of Toronto in opening up Canadian immigration to people of African descent and other non-white groups in the 1950s can likewise be seen as a great contribution to the multicultural Canada we know today.

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • explain how Canada’s identity has been and continues to be shaped by its global participation;
  • comment on the political and social context of African Canadians between 1900 and World War II;
  • discuss civil rights of African Canadians from 1960 to now.

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