The ceremony kicked off at 2:00 p.m. with LBHCC Committee member Leroy Hibbert welcoming the crowd then introducing accomplished singer, songwriter and his wife Helen Hibbert to sing her lovely rendition of the National Anthem. Fourth-year English major student at University of Western Ontario Serena Klumpenhouwer did a wonderful job singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the Black National Anthem. Written as a poem by James Waldon Johnson in 1899 his brother John Rosamond Johnson set it to music in 1900 to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900 and to commemorate him freeing the slaves. (Lincoln’s birthday and others is the reason Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February; but that is for another blog.)
Following the singing, Leroy introduced numerous London dignitaries who presented their greetings including the Mayor of London Joe Fontana. In his greeting, Executive Director of Museum London Brian Meehan reported that Black History Month is story telling which is fitting for Museum London which has been the site for LBHCC’s Opening Ceremonies since its inception twelve years ago. Susan Truppe, MP London North Centre and Secretary for Status of Women, presented Leroy with a certificate to commemorate LBHCC’s twelve year in participating in the Opening Ceremonies for Black History Month. MP of London-Fanshawe Irene Mathyssen mentioned this is an exciting month to celebrate the heroes of London like accomplished actor Richard Harrison; Paul Lewis; the Jenkins-Howson who were one of the first black families in London and the famous musical McAuley brothers to name a few.
Newly appointed to her position six months ago, Peggy Sattler is MPP for London West who reported that Black History Month is a time to educate the children and to dispel stereotypies and misconceptions that people have. Honourable Joe Fontana, City of London Mayor thanked Leroy and the Committee for inviting him and mentioned how he was sitting beside the first elected black councilor in London, Councilor Harold Usher. The Mayor cited the incredible milestones and perils people encountered “not only in black communities in our city but across this nation and country.” He went on to say that he will be celebrating sixty years in this country from Italy. “Our country is great not as a melting pot but a mixed salad, consisting of tomatoes, salt, pepper and magic dust.”
The entertainment portion consisted of model, dancer and singer Shelly Ann McLeod from Collective Of Black Artists (COBA) from Toronto who provided a special dance performance. Shelly performed a solely routine of a mixture of African, Caribbean and modern dance to the song “Black Woman” by Ella Andell.
The Guest Speaker for the afternoon was Joseph O’Neil, historian and the owner and operator of O’Neil Funeral Home in London. In his presentation, Joseph reported the he was born in Chatham and his ancestors got involved in the Underground Railroad. He said London has a long history that you won’t read in any book and presented highlights and interesting facts of London. In the 1830s where the railroad is was once a swamp where the tannery and most industries were. The smell was so bad the only people who lived in that area were blacks. He said families residing there were provided with a large sum of money as retribution. He mentioned how American Abolitionist John Brown came to London for he knew blacks in this area had money which he needed for arms and men for his raid. Joseph stated that London Ontario had connections to Harper Ferry’s Raid which sparked the American Civil War.
London had three black churches, the first was the African Methodist Episcopal Church also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel, built in 1847; Beth Emmanuel Church built in 1869; and the Qulibie Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church built in 1924. Quoting from Richard Harrison, Joseph stated that “no one is going to blow our horn unless we do it ourselves.” That is why Joseph is fighting hard to save the Fugitive Slave Chapel which was demised to be demolished. The hope and goal is to relocate the church to an empty lot beside Beth Emmanuel Church where it stands on Grey Street. Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project has their 2¢ worth campaign. 2¢ represents fifteen minutes of work an unskilled labourer in 1848 when the chapel was built.
Following the presentations, the crowd returned to the display area. I had quite the traffic to my booth as many people were intrigued and not aware of Oxford County’s past black history. For those who were interested, I explained Ingersoll’s connection to the Underground Railroad and described the distinct groups of black people who settled in Ingersoll, Woodstock and Norwich Township. (On Tuesday February 11, 2014, I will be the speaker at the South Norwich Historical Society Meeting at 7:00 p.m. at Woodlawn. ) I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and look forward in participating every year. According to Committee Member Leroy Hibbert, the event attracted about a hundred people. “It was a very celebrated day, nice to highlight the contributions of African-Canadians; excellent attendance despite the storm. Looking forward to the other activities in February to commemorate Black History Month.”
LBHCC’s BLACK HISTORY MONTH HIGHLIGHTS
Saturday: 8-10 p.m., Road to Freedom featuring the Karen Schuesller Singers performing songs and spoken word to tell the story of how slaves from the American South escaped via the Underground Railroad to London. The event is also a fundraiser for the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project. Tickets are $20 (adults) $15 seniors, students and children six to 12 available at Tuckey Home Hardware, Attic Books, Lambeth Art Gallery, Long & McQuade, Delta’s Wedding & Party Planning.
Saturday, Feb. 15: 3-5 p.m., the H.B. Beal Choir performs at Beth Emanuel Church, 430 Grey St. Admission is free.
Monday, Feb. 17: A celebration for children and families at London Regional Children’s Museum, 21 Wharncliffe Rd., where there will be singing, dancing and games, not to mention kite making. Admission is $7 adults, $2 children (under 23 months free).
Saturday, Feb. 22: 2-4:30 p.m. Symposium: Preserving Our Heritage at the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, 505 Dundas St., is featuring a panel of speakers who will share their views on how to preserve their culture. Admission is free.
Sunday, Feb. 23: 2-4 p.m. the Closing Gala followed by a reception from 4-5 p.m. at London Central Library’s Wolf Performance Hall, 251 Dundas St., featuring an afternoon of music, dance and history designed for the whole family, as well as the presentation of awards to two outstanding Black community achievers. Admission $12 adults, $6 for 12 and under.
A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES
Feb. 6: The Butler, based on the real life of Eugene Allen (the character Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker), an African-American who served at the White House for 34 years watching history unfold.
Feb. 13: Betty and Coletta, the stories of the widows of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and their lives after the assassinations of their husbands and how they carry on as single mothers after the assassination of their husbands.
Feb. 20: Marley, a 2012 documentary-biographical film directed by Kevin Macdonald documenting the life of Jamaican music icon Bob Marley.
Feb. 27: Akeelah and The Bee, a 2006 movie telling the story of Akeelah Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.