(Members of the Hidaya Diaspora Junior Dance Group performing during the Windsor-Essex County Black History Month Kick-off at the Caribbean Centre in Windsor, Ontario, on Friday, January 31, 2020. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
The Essex County Black Historical Research Society, Windsor West Indian Association, and the Amherstburg Freedom Museum joined together Friday night to Kick-Off February’s Black History Month.
Collectively the organizations, and others, have lined up a month of fascinating, entertaining and informative activities. One of the most revealing is the little-known fact of the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in Windsor. They spoke at events at the now deteriorating band shell in Jackson Park. Because of its significance, the hope is to have the facility restored and designated as an historic landmark.
On another front, volunteer Harold Goldin talked of the efforts to name a new school on Windsor’s Mercer Street to honour James Llewellyn Dunn. In 1883, after his daughter, Jane Ann, was barred from attending Central Public grade school he sued the board of education. Although he lost, he was later elected as a school trustee.
According to Goldin, the Greater Essex County District School Board requested name ideas and Dunn’s is one being considered.
On February 27, Kimberly Simmons will be the featured speaker at Green Bean Reads, at the local café near the University. She will talk about her ancestor Caroline Quarrls Watkins, one of many southern American Blacks who followed the Underground Railroad to the Windsor area. The evening is organized by the Windsor Storytellers Collective which hosts guest speakers on the fourth Thursday of every month.
Simmons was in attendance at the Kick-Off autographing copies of her book on Miss Watkins, co-authored with Larry A. McClellan, titled, The Remarkable Journey of Caroline Quarlls – A Freedom Seeker.
Another aspect of the Underground Railroad, its links to Mexico, will be discussed February 20 at 7pm downtown at Windsor’s Chimzcuk Museum. An exhibit there, chronicling Blacks in Windsor and Sandwich, is planned for February 6.
Black culture has been a fabric of the local society since the 1800s and was front and centre at the Kick-Off with performers dancing, drumming and reading poetry to mark the official release of the 2020 community activity schedule for the month.
Artists included activist and percussionist Teajai Travis, poet Mbonisi Zikhali and performers from the Hidaya Junior Dance Group and ACSOO of the Cameroonian Association of Southwestern Ontario Dance Group.
Keeping the room filled with music was the task of DJ Lamar Nelson. Nelson works both locally, often at Caesar Windsor’s Cosmos Lounge, and in Toronto. From his experience, he tells Eyes on Windsor, music tastes are more diverse locally, compared to Toronto. He pins the difference on the city’s location so close to Motown and the influence Detroit’s song writers and performers have had on Windsor.
The event is supported by the Morris Sutton Funeral Home. Speaking on behalf of his organization, Paul Janisse, saying he is the oldest funeral director this side of London, reminisced about his childhood playmates, many who were Black. “We never really noticed the difference,” he said.
Other sponsors are the University of Windsor Office of Human Rights and Department of History, the Faculty of Wonderment, and the City of Windsor’s Cultural Affairs Office.
Essex County’s Black Historical Research Society was formed to research, preserve and promote the advancement of the Black (African-Canadian) history of the greater Windsor area. Committee members involved in organizing the evening were Lorena Bridgen-Lennie, Herma Brown, Irene Moore Davis, Kenn Stanton and Mary-Katherine Whelan.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.