Windsor remembers Howard McCurdy as a freedom fighter, role model and source of pride

Friends remember Howard McCurdy as a civil rights leader, the second black member of Parliament in Canada — the first for the New Democratic Party — and the first tenured black professor in Canadian history.

'We can equate his legacy to that of American Martin Luther King'

Dr. Howard McCurdy is being remembered by friends and family.

Friends and family who gathered at a public visitation to remember civil rights leader Dr. Howard McCurdy on Friday remembered him as a fearless freedom fighter.

McCurdy was the second black member of Parliament in Canada —  the first for the New Democratic Party — and the first tenured black professor in Canadian history. He died February 20 at the age of 85.

Before he passed on, McCurdy managed to cram more experiences and honours into one lifetime than the average man. He was a scientist who also formed the Guardian Club to fight racial discrimination in Windsor and co-founded and chaired the National Black Coalition of Canada.

He was named to the Order of Ontario and designated a member of the Order of Canada in 2012.

"Think of him as a man that fought for freedom, to think of a man who fought for equality, for a man that strived for the betterment of black people," said Kenny Gbadebo, the executive director of Youth Connection Association and friend of McCurdy's.

Gbadebo also invoked the name of a well-known civil rights leader when speaking of McCurdy.

"We can equate his legacy to that of American Martin Luther King," Gbadebo said.

Friends and family gather to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Howard McCurdy. 1:27

The two men collaborated with the Children's Aid Society to promote the welfare for black youth in the region. They also advocated for black and disadvantaged youth in the education system. 

Gbadebo said he wants to have a celebration of McCurdy's accomplishments and legacy.

Mentor and role model

Growing up in Windsor, Tina Odette said the entire McCurdy family helped shape who she is.

"We had pride in them. You didn't have a lot to be proud of in our community," Odette said. "We had pride in what they did. What they stood for. What they did for us. It was just amazing."

McCurdy will be remembered as a pillar of the community who stood his ground and showed others what was right, Odette added.

"There are some people that are blazing trails these days and he was the one that showed them the path."

Howard McCurdy, right, is shown in a photo on the Facebook page of his daughter Leslie McCurdy, right. The well-known activist and Windsor MP died on Feb. 20 at age 85. (Leslie McCurdy/Facebook)

McCurdy played the role of mentor to Preston Chase, who still thinks about what he would have done when making decisions

"I like to describe black Canadians [as] a little bit passive aggressive. We're relaxed but when there's something wrong we're going to come at you and Howard McCurdy was like 'BOOM.' He had the words. He had the knowledge and he wouldn't back down until everything was solved," he said.

Chase recalls how McCurdy is credited with naming the NDP party during one of his speeches.

"He fought for civil rights and it's still ongoing today, but he brought a lot of things to the surface that people were afraid to talk about."

About the Author

Stacey Janzer

Stacey Janzer was born and raised in Essex County. Self-described Canadian treasure. She currently works as a video journalist at CBC Windsor. Email her at Stacey.Janzer@cbc.ca.