Lincoln Alexander is remembered as Canada’s first Black member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister, and Ontario’s first Black lieutenant-governor.
But to those whose lives he touched, Alexander, who would have turned 100 Friday, he’s much more.
Evelyn Auchinvole remembers how Alexander helped Hamilton’s first Black church with its first constitution, getting it a charitable tax number, and his singing.
“I grew up in Stewart Memorial Church with him singing in the church choir carrying the bass notes with his big, deep voice,” said Auchinvole, a church historian and archivist.
“As he progressed into public life, we felt that same, I’ll say, lifting up by association.”
Alexander was born Jan. 21, 1922, but spent much of his life in Hamilton. He represented Hamilton West in the House of Commons as a Conservative MP for 12 years beginning in 1968. He was appointed minister of labour in 1979, and in 1985 was sworn in as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor and served in the role until 1991.
Although he died Oct. 12, 2012, in Hamilton. But he’s still touching lives.
“In my travels across the province, I am often stopped by individuals who recall vividly what it was like as a young person to have Lincoln Alexander pause to shake their hands, look them in the eye, and celebrate their potential,” Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s current lieutenant-governor, said in a statement Thursday.
WATCH | Lincoln Alexander reflects on his first year as an MP:
Alexander’s parents immigrated to Canada from the West Indies. He moved to Hamilton after serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, and attended McMaster University in Hamilton and Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto.
During his political career, Auchinvole said, Alexander “brought to the table a diverse voice that had been missing in Canadian politics.”
In 1992, Alexander was also appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario.
He’s been honoured in other ways. Several elementary schools, a parkway in Hamilton and a law school in Toronto bear his name. The Ontario government also recognizes Lincoln Alexander Day on Jan. 21.
A role model for Black community
As a Black woman and now as a student at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University, Safia Thompson said she could feel the limitations society places on individuals similar to herself.
“I didn’t really understand what it meant to take up space in places like law school or the legal profession, and I always had to search for that prototype, and Lincoln Alexander is exactly that … he kind of shows us … being a racialized individual and greatness are not mutually exclusive concepts,” Thompson said.
Thompson moderated a virtual Lincoln Alexander Day event that was hosted by the law school Friday and included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alexander’s granddaughter, Erika.
“Hearing about Mr. Alexander and the work he did and being the first at many things, occupying roles and being the first person from the Black community, is what inspired me to want to do the same,” said Thompson.
“His focus wasn’t just on helping the Black community, but his focus was on fighting for racial justice and racial equity for all individuals.”
WATCH | Alexander as Canada’s first black lieutenant-governor:
Tania Hernandez attended Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association of Hamilton’s (ACCA) event last Sunday commemorating Alexander and Martin Luther King Jr., the U.S. civil rights activist born Jan. 15, 1929, who was assassinated in 1968.
“It was very inspiring and very educational, and it brought the community together,” she said about the event honouring the two.
“Both men have been luminaries for civil rights justice and just lovely human beings.”
Numerous events are being held Friday to celebrate Alexander’s life and legacy.
Hamilton’s Cable 14 will air ACCA’s event at 5 p.m. ET. There’s also the province’s annual Lincoln M. Alexander Award ceremony, which honours three youth who have shown strong leadership in eliminating racial discrimination.
The NBA’s Toronto Raptors also honoured Alexander, sharing a video celebrating his legacy.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.