London

In 1927, London Ont. hosted a Canadian first for Black rights

A little known chapter in London's Black history has surfaced at a venue most people in this city associate with music. See what people were striving for 93-years ago.

The Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People met in the city and the message is still relevant

The pamplet for the first convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People was held Oct. 10, 1927 in London, Ont. at the Aeolian Hall. Hundreds of people travelled to the city to hear from various speakers. (Provided: Clark Bryan)

A little known chapter in London's Black history has surfaced at a venue most people in this city associate with music.

The Aeolian Hall was filled with "sweet music" from a live orchestra on Oct. 10, 1927 and there was dancing with "old and young" joining together. 

The occasion was the first-ever convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People (coloured spelled without the 'u') bringing people together from Toronto, Windsor and the United States.

"I was absolutely shocked. For the whole time I've been at the Aeolian, we've been looking for historical stuff about the place and no one had ever mentioned this," said Aeolian Hall's Executive Director Clark Bryan, who found a pamphlet describing the event.

Some of the members on the executive of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People included David Ross and J. F. Jenkins. (Provided)

"It's like this piece of history has been forgotten!" 

According to archives from the London Room and from New York City's public archives, the event attracted several hundred people from all backgrounds. They discussed a variety of topics over the course of the day, including "race prejudice" and unemployment of black youth. 

In his speech, the league's president J.W. Montgomery outlined the number of jobs that had been lost over the course of two decades within the Black community. 

"In Toronto 20 years ago, we had three teachers in the public schools; we have none now. We had one member of the city council; we have none now. In the Post Office six or more. None now. Toronto Railway, several employees. None now," Montgomery told the convention. 

The agenda for the meeting held on Oct. 10, 1927 highlights speakers, as well as an invitation from London's mayor to visit city institutions. (Provided)

London's acting mayor in 1929, Jas McCormick reportedly "promised the support of the white people of London to the local colored population in regaining any lost prestige and privileges," reported the London Advertiser, a local newspaper. 

McCormick went on to say he was proud the city was hosting the convention and offered to bring "autos" around to show delegates London's principal institutions. 

"He said was ready at all times do what he could for our great cause," a pamphlet published after the convention read. 

Know the delegates? 

"Can someone please tell us more about this?" Bryan pleaded. "There must be some knowledge in our community about these people who were engaged in activism."

Mrs. Hattie Agnes Richie Fields Butler was thanked for financing and drafting the final report of the first convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People. She was born in Hamilton in 1879. (Submitted by Clark Bryan/ Aeolian Hall)

CBC London has reached out to local organizers of London's Black History Month to see if anyone knows what happened after this historic first meeting. 

Three resolutions were passed that day in 1927, which provide a picture of the goals and hopes people had for the future. As published in the pamphlet prepared after the convention, the resolutions are:

  • That we do all within our power to banish petty prejudice which bars success from ambitious and deserving colored youths. 
  • That we prepare our boys and girls to fill any and all positions within the gift of our country.
  • That we seek with the assistance of fair minded white citizens to find places for members of our race after they have prepared themselves. 

 

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