Celebrating Black Female Freedom Fighters: Rosemary Brown

To learn more about this freedom fighter, read Being Brown: A Very Public Life available at national booksellers.

Like Marie-Joseph Angélique, Rosemary Brown (1930-2003) also contended with a climate in Canada that was especially unkind to people of color. Just five years after she immigrated to Canada from Jamaica to study at university, she launched a lifelong fight against racism and sexism. A founding member of multiple civil and women’s rights groups, Ms. Brown would go on to become the first Black female candidate for leadership of the New Democratic Party and the first Black woman to serve in a Canadian parliamentary body.

When Ms. Brown first came from Jamaica to Canada, she was not prepared for the treatment she received. Having grown up in a household that uplifted and celebrated Black women, she was taken aback by the prejudice she encountered as she went about attempting to apply for employment. When she tried to get student housing, white students refused to room with her.

“To be black and female in a society that is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up!” – Rosemary Brown

A few short years later, Ms. Brown met and married her husband and together they founded, in 1956, the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization helped to expand housing and employment opportunities for Black people throughout British Columbia. It also introduced human rights legislation in the province’s parliament.

Ms. Brown helped found the Vancouver Status of Women Council and the Canadian Women’s Foundation. As a member of Voice of Women, she was proactive in helping the anti-war group lobby for arms control and eliminate nuclear weapons. Additionally, Ms. Brown was a social worker with the Children’s Aid Society of Vancouver, the Montréal Children’s Hospital and the Riverview Mental Hospital as well as a counselor at Simon Fraser University

“Women should enter politics to bring about change. It’s a tough arena, and an unpleasant one. The sacrifices called for can only be justified on the grounds that we are indeed making the world, or our community, a better place than it is.” — Rosemary Brown

Ms. Brown ran for the British Columbia legislature and won in 1972. During her political career, she helped form the  Berger Commission on the Family and worked to remove sexist bias from school textbooks, end discrimination based on age and marital status, and promote more female representation of public boards.

Following her retirement from politics in 1988, Ms. Brown became a women’s studies professor at Simon Fraser University. In 1989, she also became the CEO of MATCH International Women’s Fund where she advocated for political, social and economic advancement of women in developing countries.

In 1993, she served on the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee and became the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She was awarded with 15 honorary doctorates from universities throughout Canada as well as the United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship, the Order of British Columbia, and the Order of Canada.

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