The following section examines the secular Black organizations that have developed in Alberta over the past hundred years. Although there were numerous organizations, many of which existed for only a few years, they all shared a common goal: to improve the social, economic, and political conditions of Blacks living in Alberta.
In 2001, the Black Pioneer Descendants' Society was created as a unified organization dedicated to educating and commemorating the many contributions and achievements of Black pioneers in Western Canada. According to its Web site, the Black Pioneer Descendants' Society is a registered non-profit society. The Society, located in Edmonton, was formed from previous organizations whose mandates and objectives were similar. The surviving children and families of the Black pioneers who arrived in both Alberta and Saskatchewan are the primary representatives of the Society, whose mission statement lists the following objectives:
- to promote awareness of the contributions the Black pioneers made to Western Canada
- to preserve the memories of the Black pioneers
- to provide relevant educational and recreational forums and activities for future generations
- to maintain members' identity as descendants of Black pioneers
The Colored Protective Association (CPA) was formed in Calgary in 1910 and is noted the first Black organization in urban Alberta directed at eliminating racism. The CPA organized social activities and battled against discrimination. For instance, members of the CPA vocally opposed the Victoria Park petition which sought to segregate Blacks within Calgary.
The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), originally founded in New York in 1916, was dedicated to Black self-improvement. The UNIA was a worldwide initiative founded by the journalist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey in New York. In its written constitution, the UNIA is described as a “social, friendly, humanitarian, charitable, educational and constructive society founded by persons doing the utmost work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry.” The UNIA was also known for its Back to Africa movement, an organized effort aimed at encouraging Black Americans to return to Liberia.
The UNIA had two branches in Alberta. One branch was set up in Edmonton during
the 1920s and was the most important secular organization during the 1920s and
1930s. The other branch was in Amber
Valley, set up by the community elders who had UNIA meetings once a
month. Under the auspices of the UNIA, two other organizations were established
in 1921. The Negro Welfare Association of Alberta (NWAA) was headed by
Ira Day, a pioneer homesteader. The NWAA was concerned with the growing
problem of urban Black unemployment. The organization sought to teach valuable
work skills and remove discriminatory practices in the workforce. The Negro
Political Association, under the direction of Reverend H. Brooks, fought for
improved civil rights among Alberta’s Black community. Members also
lobbied government officials to obtain equal rights legislation.
In the 1930s, the NWAA folded. However, other groups such as the High Tension Club, the Liberty Protective Society, and the Canadian Colored Industrial Organization quickly emerged—all with similar objectives. The High Tension Club, formed in Edmonton in the late 1930s, was a social club run by president Ed Bailey, vice-president Mattie Collins, and secretary Alice Geary, who, together, circulated a newspaper called the Jeep. Also in Edmonton, the Liberty Protective Society was formed in the 1930s; the Society's 400 members raised money for the Black community, delivered food hampers to poor Black families, provided educational scholarships, and sponsored political candidates supported by the Black community. The Coloured Canadian Industrial Association was founded in Edmonton 30 June 1938 to study and discuss the welfare of Black people in Alberta and to put their concerns forward before the provincial government. The Association also held amateur sports games.
In addition to these groups, there were various social clubs for Edmonton’s Black community; there were a few Masonic lodges, like the fraternal lodge, “The Pride of Alberta No. 9 Lodge” and the Deborah Chapter of the Masonic Order, Order of the Eastern Star, open to both men and women. Black women interested in such arts as needlework and painting joined the Lotus Art Club, and Black girls had their own Girl Guide Company. Black boys in Edmonton could join the Colored Boys’ Athletic Club, set up in 1930 by Robert Bailey.
Groups each faced relative setbacks; they had no national organization to provide them with funding or direction, no middle- or upper-class leadership, and litle influence on public policy because of the small and dwindling Black population. Regardless of these setbacks, members of the respective organizations were dedicated to their objectives and were effective in unifying Alberta’s fragmented Black population, frequently subject to various forms of discrimination.
During the 1950s and the 1960s, the organizational scene in Edmonton’s Black community was fairly quiet. However, in the 1970s, new organizations were created, many with the intent of preserving the heritage of the Black pioneers of Alberta. The Black Cultural Research Society of Alberta was created in Edmonton. Members of the society compiled research on Black culture, fostered awareness of Alberta’s Black community, and presented educational and cultural research to the public. The Society set up The Communicant in May of 1973. A monthly newsletter for the Black community, The Communicant ran until 1978. The Society also sponsored events including The Homecoming, a Symposium, and an Awards Night Banquet, held at the Provincial Museum of Alberta on 2 and 3 August 1974. Black pioneers and their descendants gathered from all over North America to attend. Another event, the Ebony Extravaganza, organized by June Brown, was a fashion show and banquet. The Black Cultural Research Society also sponsored the book, The Window of Our Memories, a collection of interviews with Alberta and Saskatchewan’s Black pioneers and their descendants.
Operation We Care was a successful youth program within the Black community during the 1970s. Located in Edmonton at 10454 82 Avenue and directed by LeVero Carter, Operation We Care sponsored youth programs and attacked cultural and racial stereotyping of the youth. Youths in the program were from diverse racial and cultural groups, and they participated in arts, crafts, and field trips. One group, the Trident group, helped a farmer build a toolshed. Operation We Care also had non-youth-oriented programs which sponsored the New Canada Home Base Project. The Project was headed by an Indian woman, Jayandi Negi, who visited new immigrants at their homes to help them adjust to life in Canada. In addition, Operation We Care set up a 13-part television series for Capital Cable TV. Entitled “Colorful People,” the series looked at the cultures of minority groups in Canada. In honour of Alberta’s Black pioneers, Operation We Care helped form the Amber Valley Community Association, which opened in 1975. A pig barn was remodelled into the community centre and hosted a homecoming for the descendants of the people of Amber Valley that same year.