“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being” - Maya Angelou
It is commonly said that it’s hard to know where one is going if one doesn’t know where they are from. The struggle of Black women in our society is accurate, and often, we forget or are unaware of those that came before, easing the burden. That void in knowledge is a manifestation of institutionalized marginalization that has hindered many. As a man, I cannot fully comprehend the depths of it. However, I am a student of history, and thus I thought to apply my love for peering into the past to learn about some of Canada’s female torchbearers. Women who moved mountains and forged the tools for those of today to continue building with shattering ceilings and stereotypes while demonstrating that intelligence, courage, love, and knowledge of self that make you the unique queens of this world.
Our Women in History
A descendant of the African American migration to Amber Valley in the early 1900s, Violet King, was the first Black female lawyer in Canada, the first Black person to graduate with a law degree from the University of Alberta, and the first Black person to be admitted to the Alberta Bar. Her career traversed from practicing law in Calgary to becoming the first woman named to a senior management role within the American national YMCA, holding the title of Executive Director of the national council.
Getting a job was an arduous task for a woman of color during the 1940’s. Minorities in Canada faced similar forms of discrimination as those in the States.
Along came Hatti Melton and the birth of the local institution: Hatti’s Harlem Chicken Inn. From the mid 1940s to the late 1960s this restaurant served as a gathering point for people of color who both lived in and visited Edmonton. However, Hatti’s also served as a place where Black women could find work and develop the skills needed for economic growth and independence.
Shirley Romany is recognized as one of the matriarchs of the Edmonton hair care industry. For over 40 years, she has been one of the city’s top stylists for women in the Black community and founder of the iconic Ebony & Ivory Hair Salon. Her influence in the industry is felt across Alberta, with many top stylists emanating from under her tutelage.
In May 1922, Lulu Anderson went to Edmonton’s Metropolitan Theater to buy a ticket for the show “The Lion and the Mouse”; she was denied entry based on her race.
She decided to bring a lawsuit before the Canadian courts. Still, she ultimately lost the case as the judge, in his ruling, stated, “management could refuse admission to anyone upon refunding the price of the ticket”.
The files related to her case were destroyed in 1971. However, it represents one of the pioneer moments in the Canadian fight for civil rights for the Black community.