Rosemary Brown: The Fight for Justice and Equality
In the words of Malcolm X, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”1 Among the many strong black women was Rosemary Brown. She dedicated her life to the fight against racism and sexism. Brown broke down the barriers that were put around women and black Canadians.
Rosemary Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica on June 17, 1930. She was born with politics in her blood as she came from a political family. Brown described her childhood as “safe and supportive, in a house ruled by women.”2 She travelled to Canada in 1951, with hopes of a better life and to pursue her studies in social work. She was enrolled in McGill University and University of British Columbia to obtain her Master of Social Work. Brown was appalled when she was met with sexism and racism, as she was once part of the majority in Jamaica, and is now a minority in Canada. Her upbringing left her unprepared for the many obstacles that she soon faced. She encountered discrimination when applying for jobs, getting housing, and in her everyday life. Her experiences with discrimination greatly influenced her life as she became committed to be an advocate for minorities.
Brown started her long journey towards justice and equality as a member of two social groups, British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and Voice of Women. During the 1960s, there was a significant political shift in Canada as minorities were challenging their unfair roles in Canadian society. This encouraged her role as a political advocate against racism and sexism. Because of her being a black woman, she was able to speak for both the traditional gender and racial roles that were being challenged in Canadian politics. Brown helped find the Vancouver Status of Women Council (VSW) as the Ombudswoman.
Persuaded by the VSW, Brown entered politics as a provincial candidate for the NDP. On August 30, 1972, Brown made history as she became the first black woman to sit in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. In her fourteen years as an MLA, Brown made many contributions to society in her fight against sexism and racism. She created a committee to eliminate the sexism that was present in school textbooks and curricula, played a major role in the creation of the Berger Commission on the Family, and introduced legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sex and marital status. Her contributions and efforts influenced many women to become representatives on boards, commissions, and directorates. Brown made history again when she ran for federal leadership of the NDP in 1975. Sticking to her brand, she ran with the slogan, “Brown is Beautiful,” breaking racial barriers. Despite finishing as a close second to Ed Broadbent, she still came out victorious as she was the first black woman to run for leadership of a federal political party in Canada.
After her long and successful run in politics, Brown focused her attention to being an international advocate. She joined the advocacy group MATCH International Women’s Fund as the CEO. She was very passionate about this role as she expanded her efforts overseas. She gathered support for projects that would promote the advancement of women politically, economically, and socially in developing countries. From 1993-1996, she took on the role as the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Her efforts and contributions to society was recognized when she was awarded with fifteen honourary doctorates from various Canadian universities, the Order of British Columbia in 1995, the Order of Canada in 1996, and the United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship in 1973.
Brown’s fight came to an end on April 26, 2003, when she died of a heart attack. She dedicated seventy-two years of her life fighting for justice and equality of women and minorities. She played a significant role in helping to define Canada’s diverse heritage and identity. Joy MacPhail said, “Her legacy will live on amongst the thousands of women and people of color who were inspired and have become involved in politics through her role as an activist, educator, and role model.”3
1 Rodriguez, Matthew. “Here’s the Malcolm X Speech About Black Women Beyoncé Sampled in ‘Lemonade’”. Mic. https://mic.com/articles/141642/here-s-the-malcolm-x-speech-about-black-women-beyonce-sampled-in-lemonade#.JjcHMSe2r (accessed December 5, 2018).
2 Gale, Thomas. “Rosemary Brown”. Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/other-religious-beliefs-biographies/rosemary-brown (accessed December 5, 2018).
3 Gale, Thomas. “Rosemary Brown”. Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/other-religious-beliefs-biographies/rosemary-brown (accessed December 5, 2018).
Gale, Thomas. “Rosemary Brown”. Encyclopedia.com. 2005. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/other-religious-beliefs-biographies/rosemary-brown. 5 December 2018.
Rodriguez, Matthew. “Here’s the Malcolm X Speech About Black Women Beyoncé Sampled in ‘Lemonade’”. Mic. 23 April 2016. https://mic.com/articles/141642/here-s-the-malcolm-x-speech-about-black-women-beyonce-sampled-in-lemonade#.JjcHMSe2r. 5 December 2018.
Snyder, Lorraine. “Rosemary Brown”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 28 February 2014. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rosemary-brown. 5 December 2018.
Unknown Author. “Rosemary Brown”. Library and Archives Canada. N.d. https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/030001-1343-e.html. 5 December 2018.