Black History Month – Civil Rights Movement in Chatham-Kent
In 1948 a group of Black citizens from Chatham, Dresden and North Buxton met and established the National Unity Association (NUA) after racist and segregation incidents in the town of Dresden.
The four primary purposes included:
- To promote the welfare of all people regardless of colour, creed, national origin or religion
- To promote interest in better group relations
- To foster the spirit of equality
- To instill a sense of pride and dignity in Black people
After the formation, the NUA went to the Dresden town council to propose that prohibiting Black citizens from local businesses was discriminatory. Only one councillor supported this proposal. A referendum was then held so the people could decide on the matter, and the results were 83% against the proposal and 17% in favour. These results made national news.
Since they were receiving no support locally, they joined a province-wide campaign, and in 1951 the Fair Employment Practices Act was created that prohibited discrimination based on race and religion in employment – but it did not address the right to service in public spaces.
It wasn’t until years of fighting for their rights that the province would pass other acts, including The Ontario Discrimination Commission Act in 1958, The Ontario Human Right Commission in 1961, which amended previous commissions and then, in 1962, The Ontario Human Rights Code was enacted bringing together the precious laws and acts from the province.
Members of Chatham-Kent’s Black community played an integral part in ending discrimination and segregation in public businesses.
The Chatham-Kent Museum has an online exhibit about the National Unity Association at the following link: https://vitacollections.ca/ckmuseums/620/exhibit/1
The National Film Board also has a documentary on the Dresden Story which can be found at the following link: https://www.nfb.ca/film/dresden_story/