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Sat, 01.21.1922

Lincoln Alexander, Canadian Politician born

Lincoln Alexander

*Lincoln M. Alexander was born on this date in 1922.  He was a Black Canadian lawyer and politician. 

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was born in a row house on Draper Street near Front Street and Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Ontario. He was the eldest son of Mae Rose (née Royale), who emigrated from Jamaica, and Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, Sr., a Black carpenter who worked as a Porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had come to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Lincoln had a younger brother Hughie, born in 1924, and an older half-brother Ridley "Bunny" Wright, born to his mother in 1920, prior to her marriage to his father. Bunny was never accepted by Lincoln Sr. and was not allowed in the family's house. Alexander went to Earl Grey Public School, where he was the only Black child in his kindergarten class.  When the family moved to the east end of Toronto, and he attended Riverdale Collegiate, Alexander knew only three Black families.  His family social life centered on regularly attending a Baptist church in downtown Toronto. His father was a stern disciplinarian who wanted his son to play the piano. Alexander preferred various sports, including track, soccer, hockey, softball, and boxing. His size made him uncoordinated, so he was not a natural athlete. 

As a teen, Alexander's mother moved to Harlem with his half-brother Ridley after his father beat her violently. Lincoln and his brother Hughie were cared for by Sadie and Rupert Downes until his mother could send for one of them. She chose Lincoln; Hughie remained with the Downes family and the brothers grew apart.  In New York, he attended DeWitt Clinton High School, the only member of his family to do so. He recalled in his memoir, "Given the message about education that had been pounded into my head since I was a young child, the fact those kids didn’t go to school was an eye-opener for me." As a black community, Harlem allowed him to find role models who worked at jobs that did not involve manual labor.

In 1939, after Canada declared war on Germany, his mother sent him back to Toronto to live with his father.  He first distinguished himself in service to Canada in 1942 as a corporal and wireless operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He served in many parts of the country, including Portage La Prairie. He was ineligible for combat duty because of poor eyesight.  Alexander quit the Air Force in 1945 and was granted an honorable discharge.  After the war, Alexander completed his studies at Hamilton's Central Collegiate and then entered McMaster University in 1946 to study economics and history, receiving a BA in 1949. 

In 1948, Alexander's mother died at age 49, suffering from dementia; his father committed suicide four years later. He married his first wife, Yvonne Harrison, in 1948, and their only child, a son named Keith, was born in 1949. Alexander then attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. While there, he suggested to the Dean during a lecture that he was using inappropriate language: "nigger".Challenging the Dean, he said: "But you can't say that because you have to show leadership. You're in a position of authority, a leader in the community. A leader has to lead and not be using such disrespectful comments without even thinking about them."   Alexander graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1953.  

As a lawyer, the only job offer he received was from Helen and Edward Okuloski. Here he practiced real estate and commercial law and established a political base in the German and Polish communities in Hamilton. Two years later, Alexander partnered with Dave Duncan, forming the firm Duncan & Alexander, which he claimed was the first interracial law partnership in Canada. In 1960, he and his wife visited twenty-three countries in Africa as volunteers with Operation Crossroads Africa, a trip he said made him realize: "In Africa, I was a black man, and I was somebody."  "The experience was an eye-opener for me not only as a lawyer but also as a human being because I began to realize what black people could do. I saw that, unlike the Hollywood version, these Africans were men and women of significant talents. I became conscious of my blackness. I had come from a white world. Now we were in Africa, and I realized we are people of skill and creativity. I was a black man, and I was a somebody. I started standing tall."  

He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1965.  In 1965, Alexander ran in the Canadian federal election as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Hamilton West electoral district but was defeated. He ran again in the 1968 federal election, and on June 25, 1968, he won the seat, becoming Canada's first Black Member of Parliament.  In 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Governor-General Jeanne Sauvé appointed Alexander Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He became the first Black person to serve in a viceregal position in Canada.  During his appointment, he focused on multicultural issues, education, racism, and youth issues. As ruler, he visited 672 communities, held 675 receptions, received roughly 75,000 guests, attended 4,000 engagements, and visited 230 schools.  

In 1992, Alexander was appointed to the Order of Ontario and became a Companion of the Order of Canada. From 1991 to 2007, he served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph.  In 2000, Alexander was named Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he remained an active spokesman on race relations and veterans' issues.  In November 2006, his autobiography Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy: The Honorable Lincoln M. Alexander: A Memoir was published. The title reflects advice his mother had given him as a boy.  

Lincoln Alexander died in his sleep on October 19, 2012, aged 90. He was survived by his son Keith Lincoln Alexander from his marriage to his first wife, Yvonne Harrison (died 1999). He was also survived by daughter-in-law Joyce Alexander and grandchildren Erika and Marissa Alexander, and second-wife Marni Beal.   He was accorded a state funeral conducted by the Reverend Allison Barrett. With the cooperation of thousands of officials, both Provincial and Federal, and Police Services across Canada, and featuring the Burlington Teen Tour Band and Police Pipe and Drum band, it was conducted at Hamilton Place and attended by 1,500 people.  

The Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21 "Lincoln Alexander Day" in Ontario.  As of December 3, 2014, with Royal Assent by the Governor-General on December 9, 2014, January 21 is now recognized officially as "Lincoln Alexander Day" and was celebrated across Canada for the first time in 2015.  In 2018, Canada Postmarked Black History Month with stamps featuring Alexander also, and several schools have been named in his honor. The Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway municipal expressway in Hamilton, Ontario, was named in his honor. 

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