Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Labour and civil rights advocate Bromley Armstrong's 91st birthday is on February 9


By Neil Armstrong

Bromley Armstrong with Herman Stewart who received the Bromley L. Armstrong Award initiated by the Toronto & York Region Labour Council and presented at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Canadian Chapter gala in 2014. Photo credit: Eddie Grant

 
Bromley Armstrong is a leading figure in human rights, race relations and labour relations in Canada.

Born on February 9, 1926, Armstrong arrived in Canada on December 13, 1947 after a nearly two-day journey in which he and his brother, George, flew from Jamaica to Miami and touched down at several airports before getting to their destination at Malton airport (now Pearson International airport). 

It was while at a Miami restaurant that Armstrong experienced racism and this fuelled his determination to challenge discrimination -- something he has done for over six decades.

Armstrong and his brother were ushered to a dingy section in the back of the room and he writes in his memoir, Bromley: Tireless Champion for Just Causes, “Later on I came to realize that this and similar experiences were part of my preparation for my life’s work as a fighter against discrimination and intolerance.”

His fight began as a rank and file member in the Jamaican Trade Union Congress where he challenged Jamaica’s classism.

In the 1940s, the member of the Order of Canada, Order of Ontario and Order of Distinction, Jamaica, took up the case of the plight of Jamaican domestic workers who were brought here in the early 1900s by wealthy Canadians.

Without proof of age o birth certificates they were unable to apply for Canadian pensions. 

Armstrong researched their identity and helped to secure documentation from Jamaica’s Office of the Registrar General which meant that these women could now adequately support themselves in their retirement years.

In the 1950s, Armstrong was in the vanguard of movements to change Canada’s immigration policies and challenge discrimination in housing in Ontario.

As a founding and the youngest member of the Negro Citizenship Committee, he accompanied the first recorded official black delegation to Ottawa in 1954 to seek changes to Canada’s immigration policies.

He is the only surviving member of that delegation led by Donald Willard Moore and included the late Stanley G. Grizzle.

Armstrong is one of several civil rights activists featured in the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) documentary, “Journey to Justice,” which pays tribute to a group of Canadians that took racism to court. Made by filmmaker, Roger McTair, it also features Grizzle, Canadian Olympian Ray Lewis, Fred Christie who challenged racism in Montreal, Viola Desmond who fought racism in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; Hugh Burnette, Don Carty, Ruth Lor Malloy, Gus Wedderburn and more with the analysis/comments of historians such as Sheldon Taylor and James Walker.

At Kuumba 2017, the Harbourfront Centre’s Black History Month celebration, there will be a presentation, “In Celebration of Viola Desmond,” in partnership with NFB on Friday, February 10, 10-11pm and 11pm-midnight.

Almost ten years before Rosa Parks’ landmark civil rights protest in the United States, Viola Desmond challenged racial segregation in Canada. The two documentaries in this film program, “Journey to Justice,” and “Race,” are dedicated to Desmond and all the unsung heroes in the fight for Black civil rights.

[Wanda Robson, Viola Desmond’s sister is in Toronto and will participate in “Black Canadian Trailblazers – Then and Now” today (Feb. 8) at The Royal Conservatory; tomorrow morning (Feb. 9) she will meet with students at a school in the city. “Students will learn about Viola Desmond's fight for justice as she challenged racial segregation at a local theatre in Nova Scotia. Her sister, Wanda Robson, will focus on her sister's impact in the shaping of Canadian history as a human rights activist,” notes the Toronto District School Board.

Viola Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon and will be the first Canadian woman to be featured on the front of a bank note. She is slated to appear on the $10 bill in 2018.
Also on February 9, female community leaders and their
friends and families will come together to celebrate the accomplishments of
one of Canada’s best known human rights champions, Viola Desmond.

Robson will be in attendance to celebrate Viola’s place in history as the first Black female Canadian to appear on our currency, along with past recipients of the Viola Desmond Day awards and the Viola Desmond Bursary. The Viola Desmond Awards at Ryerson University <http://www.ryerson.ca/equity/events-workshops/viola-desmond-awards/>honours Ryerson students, faculty and staff in recognition of their commitment to diversity in their daily lives. Now in its ninth year, this year’s awards night will take place on campus on March 6.]

Meanwhile, as part of its Black History Month programming, the Toronto Public Library will present the NFB film, “The Ninth Floor,” on Thursday, Feb. 16, 6:30-8:15 pm at the Riverdale Library. Written and directed by Mina Shum, the film focuses on the Sir George Williams affair and Canadian race relations 40 years later.


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