New Brunswick

Saint John honours Black History Month with 'historic' gesture

The city of Saint John celebrated the start of Black History Month by making a bit of history on the steps of city hall.

Event marks the first ever raising of Pan-African flag in New Brunswick, says mayor

The city of Saint John raised the Pan-African Flag in front of city hall Monday to recognize the start of Black History Month. It's believed to be the first time the flag was raised in an official capacity in New Brunswick history. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

The city of Saint John celebrated the start of Black History Month by making a bit of history on the steps of city hall.

The Pan-African flag was raised for what's believed to be the first time in New Brunswick. Dozens of people looked on, many holding flags in their hand, as it unfurled on Monday afternoon.

The flag, created in 1920 by political activist Marcus Garvey and members of the Universal Negro Improvements Association, represents people of the African Diaspora as well as black freedom.

"It's a long time coming," Ralph Thomas, co-ordinator with the New Brunswick Black History Society and provincial boxing legend, told CBC News.

The City of Saint John recognized the start of Black History Month with a flag-raising ceremony outside city hall Monday afternoon. The Pan-African flag represents the African diaspora and black freedom, and organizers hope it encourages the public to reflect on the contributions of Africans in history. 1:49

Thomas said black history in the Maritimes is a seldom-told story, and he hopes this gesture will encourage the public to reflect on the past. 

"It's a really wonderful day that we get to do this and it's never been done before in the city of Saint John."

Ralph Thomas, right, recognizes Lily Lynch, left, for organizing Monday's flag raising. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Lily Lynch, co-founder of the online multicultural marketplace Sankara, was one of the main organizers behind the inaugural event. She said she hopes it becomes an annual affair.

"It symbolizes unity, community and recognizing the contributions of African Canadians in our past," Lynch said of the flag now waving outside city hall. 

"It's really important to symbolize that visually so the community can know it's a month of celebration."

She was spurred into action to acknowledge the achievements and sacrifices of black people in the region following the recent death of her grandfather, a black loyalist settler from Nova Scotia.

Lynch said she felt people like her grandfather and the likes of civil rights activist Viola Desmond, journalist Carrie Mae Best and Rose Fortune, an ancestor of Lynch's, deserved to be recognized.

Fortune is widely considered to be Canada's first female police officer — decades before the civil rights and feminist movements. 

Mayor Don Darling, left, and Ralph Thomas take a moment of silence during the flag-raising ceremony to commemorate the start of Black History Month. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Saint John Mayor Don Darling called it a "historic" day.

"It's never too late to do this," he told the crowd. "It's never too late to fly a flag, and it's a small token of appreciation and saying thank you to all those who came before us."

With files from Graham Thompson

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