RBC BHM essay: Lincoln Alexander, the legacy of a lifetime

3rd place Wadia Forrester
King’s Christian Collegiate

Confidence. Determination. Perseverance. These words are the motto from the Coat of Arms of Lincoln Alexander and ideal descriptors of his character and life.

Canada and the rest of the world mourned at the news of Lincoln Alexander’s death on October 19, 2012.

As his body lay in state at Queen’s Park and Hamilton City Hall, flags were flown at half-mast.

Dignitaries such as Michaëlle Jean, Joe Clark and Dalton McGuinty attended his funeral, as hundreds lined the streets to honour his life.

The life and story of Lincoln Alexander touched the hearts of Canadians of all races. He was a true trailblazer, the embodiment of excellence, and an inspiration to all. Yet what had inspired and spurred me to write this essay was when I had read his memoir, “Go to
School, You’re a Little Black Boy”.

The variety of life experiences he pens with his uncanny wit, serves as an example of his humanity and accomplishments, and exhibits the magnitude of his contribution as a black Canadian to Canada’s unique heritage and identity.

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander Jr. was born on January 21, 1922 to mother Mae Rose and his eponymous father. Born and raised in Toronto, Alexander recounts living in a majority white and minority black population, which consisted of its prejudices.

At the schools he attended, he was the only black kid in his classes. He moved with his mother to Harlem after his parents’ marriage had ended. After experiencing the hard life of Harlem, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and returned to Hamilton to finish his high school education. He was the first in his family to pursue
post-secondary education at McMaster University, studying history and political economics. A switch in career choice resulted in Alexander studying at Osgoode Law School and being called to the bar in 1953 – becoming one of only five black lawyers in
Ontario at that time.

He along with his law associates formed one of the first multiracial law firms in
Canada – one with Dave Duncan, and the second with Peter Tokiwa, Jack Millar, and Peter Isaacs (excluding himself), all of Caucasian, Japanese and Native Canadian descent. Thanks to the influence of Dave Duncan, Alexander entered politics and was elected
in 1968, becoming the first black Canadian MP.

From 1985-1991, Lincoln Alexander was appointed as the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, being the first black Canadian to achieve this position. During his term he focused on dealing with racism, education and youth issues. The Lincoln Alexander Memorial Award was initiated in remembrance of his position as Lieutenant Governor and honours youth who are actively fighting discrimination and promoting equality among all people. Four schools in Ontario have been named after Lincoln Alexander along with other landmarks.

Throughout his life Lincoln Alexander emphasized the importance of education among youth by using his own life as an example. He was a strong supporter of eliminating racism and discrimination by expressing that people of all races and backgrounds deserve an equal chance at achieving the best in life.

I too can relate to Lincoln Alexander’s story. As a black Canadian with Caribbean heritage, I have been constantly reminded by friends and family of the great gift of education, one that should not be taken for granted. I have been taught that “good things
never come easily”, but that with hard work and determination, the sky is the limit.

Just as Alexander never let people’s opinions of his race stop him from achieving great things, black Canadians can say in the face of opposition: “Lincoln Alexander. He did it. I can. I will.” On a wider front, Lincoln Alexander desired to have a society exempt from discrimination and racism, where the innate ability of every individual can be discovered and used to its greatest potential instead of being suppressed and limited to menial tasks.

A society where a man or woman is elected on their competency to complete the task, and not on the colour of their skin. A society based on equality and fairness instead of oppression and injustice. It is because of this vision, and the vision of many other Canadians, black and white, that Canada is the country it is today.