Black History Month 2021

Black history month

William Edward Hall

William Edward Hall (VC)
William Edward Hall (VC) Photo: Wikipedia

Victoria Cross recipient William Hall was born in 1827 in Horton, Nova Scotia, the youngest of seven children. His parents, Jacob and Lucy Hall, were former enslaved Americans who had come to Nova Scotia as a result of the War of 1812. Hall grew up on the family farm beside the Avon River, and it is believed that he received some training in navigation, a subject that was being taught to young Black males in Halifax at the time.

William Hall launched his seafaring career at the age of seventeen, first joining the crew of an American trading vessel in 1844 as a merchant seaman. In 1852, he enlisted in the Royal Navy in Liverpool as an Able Seaman. Before long, Hall was decorated with British and Turkish medals for his service in the Crimean War.

In 1857, while serving on the Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Shannon, Hall volunteered with a relief force sent to Lucknow, India, where a British garrison was besieged. Two survived the attack, Seaman Hall and Lieutenant Thomas Young, but only Hall was left standing, and he continued to fight until the relief of the garrison was assured. For this outstanding display of bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

William Hall was presented with his Victoria Cross on October 28, 1859, on board the Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Donegal while the ship sat in Queenstown Harbour, Ireland. With this award, he became the first Black person, the first Nova Scotian and the first Canadian sailor to receive this outstanding honour.

Hall died on his farm in Avonport on August 27, 1904, and is buried in Hantsport, Nova Scotia, where his grave is marked by a monument at the Baptist church. His Victoria Cross is preserved at the Nova Scotia Museum.

Violet King (1929-1982)

Violet King Photo: Wikipedia

Violet King was the first Black person to obtain a law degree in Alberta and the first Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar. Overall, she was Canada’s first Black female lawyer. She was also the first woman appointed to an executive position in the YMCA in the United States.

King attended the University of Alberta in 1948, and out of 142 students, she was one of the only three in the Faculty of Law. She was a member of the Blue Stocking Club — a discussion group for women with an emphasis on history and public affairs. She was also Vice-President of the students’ union and representative of the students’ union to the National Federation of Canadian University Students. In 1951-52, she was elected as class historian and was the 1952 Alberta representative to the International Student Conference in Ontario. In 1953, she was the only woman in her graduating class.

King practiced law in Calgary for several years and gave speeches publicly about racism. In November 1953, she described the challenges women had faced in the work force, and expressed hope in the future that greater would be placed on a person’s ability rather than their race or gender. King later worked in Ottawa for Citizenship and Immigration for seven years as executive assistant to the chief of the Liaison Branch, and directing programs with the Canadian Citizenship Council. Her work involved travelling around Canada to meet with leaders of different service and community organizations.

In 1963, King moved to New Jersey to become executive director of the YMCA’s Community Branch and took on the role of assisting Black applicants seeking employment. In 1969, she moved to Chicago to become director of planning, and later director of manpower. In 1976, she was appointed executive director of the National Council of YMCA’s Organizational Development Group. In 1998, King was inducted into the National YMCA Hall of Fame.

Although she passed away from cancer at only age 52, King’s life consisted of important milestones that broke down barriers for Black people in Canada, particularly because it was extremely difficult to enter the legal profession for all women, especially those who belonged to a racial minority. She is an inspiration for those who work hard and aspire to do great things in their field.