Lincoln Alexander: The Champion of Canadian Politics
“At a time when racism was endemic in Canadian society, he broke through barriers that treated visible minorities as second-class citizens, strangers in their own land,” said David Onley, the twenty-eighth Lieutenant Governor of Ontario about Lincoln Alexander who was able to claim many Canadian firsts: first black person elected to the House of Commons, first black person to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and first black cabinet minister. Lincoln Alexander is a Black Canadian lawyer who defined the diverse heritage of Canada through his political and governmental contributions that were seen with his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as well as his role as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
Being born in Toronto to West Indian immigrants, Alexander decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 which was not an easy feat due to the prejudices towards black people all over the world at the time. This was of course noticed by Alexander as he recalled, “none of the three services — army, navy air force — were interested in having blacks.” Alexander considered himself a Canadian as he was born and raised in Canada and by joining the army in some form, he believed he would be serving his country but, he did not ignore the discrimination against him. Black people in Canada were subject to racism as European Canadians believed them to be inferior to them. There was a widespread belief that black people were not competent enough to understand the same things that Europeans did. Many looked down on black people and because of their skin colour they were not thought of as true Canadians. Despite all of this, Lincoln Alexander was one of thirteen Black Canadians that were able to enlist in the army between 1936 and the lifting of the colour barrier on March 31, 1942. Through his service in the RCAF, Alexander was able to prove that a first-generation Black Canadian could complete his job with the same efficiency as a European Canadian, breaking through colour barriers that restricted and belittled minorities, including black people.
In 1965, which was the same year that he was appointed Queen’s Counsel, Alexander entered politics, running as Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Hamilton West but was defeated. Instead of giving up on this position, Alexander chose to re-run in June 1968, three years later and this time, he was able to win the seat, making him the first Black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons. Despite being the only and first black MP in Canada, he created such an impact on the Hamilton community that he was re-elected four times, serving a total of twelve years. It was difficult to deny the great work that Alexander conducted so, his popularity and outstanding work as an MP led to him being sworn in as the twenty-fourth Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario on September 20, 1985. This position also made Alexander the first Black Canadian to be appointed to a viceregal position in Canada. Through this position which he held for more than six years, Alexander took an active role in the multicultural affairs of Ontario and focused on youth and education. As a result of his extraordinary work, a youth award for those who demonstrate leadership in countering discrimination and racism within their schools or communities was created in his honour. Despite the ignorance to racism that Lincoln Alexander has faced in Canada, he was able to persevere through it, empowering Black Canadians and other minorities along the way.
Lincoln Alexander provided a large impact on Canadian society as the Legislative Assembly of Ontario declared January 21 of each year Lincoln Alexander Day to signify his life “as an example of service, determination and humility. Always fighting for equal rights for all races in our society, and doing so without malice, he changed attitudes contributed greatly to the inclusiveness and tolerance of Canada today.”
Government of Canada, National Defence, Royal Canadian Air Force. "Article | Royal Canadian Air Force | News Article | Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander Was One of First Blacks to Serve in RCAF." Government of Canada, National Defence, Royal Canadian Air Force. June 05, 2017. http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/article-template-standard.page?doc=lieutenant-governor-lincoln-alexander-was-one-of-first-blacks-to-serve-in-rcaf/izkjrljk. WALKER, JA