Lulu Anderson: The history and present of Black civil rights in Alberta

This story is a part of the Black on the Prairies undertaking, a set of articles, private essays, photographs and extra, exploring the previous, current and way forward for Black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Enter the Black on the Prairies undertaking right here.


In Could 1922, Lulu Anderson walked down the brilliant streets of Jasper Avenue in Edmonton towards the Metropolitan Theatre. She held a ticket for The Lion and The Mouse, a play that was reported as “taking town by storm.” 

Theatre administration refused her admission. In accordance with the Edmonton Journal, she was thrown out onto the road and assaulted.

Anderson did not settle for the injustice she confronted. As a substitute, she employed an area lawyer and sued the theatre.

Though Anderson is a really early instance of Black activism in Canada, her case is way much less identified than some others.

Viola Desmond is commonly known as “Canada’s Rosa Parks.” She is even on our $10 invoice.  Desmond fought towards segregation in New Glasgow, N.S., and was subsequently arrested for her advocacy.

Desmond’s case came about in 1946 — 9 years earlier than Rosa Parks’ well-known refusal to sit down within the Black-only part of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. So in actuality Rosa Parks is “America’s Viola Desmond.”

In fact this isn’t a contest, nevertheless it should be famous Lulu Anderson’s case was 24 years earlier than Desmond’s.

That this odd comparability is even made is as a result of lack of know-how Canadian’s have of our personal wealthy Black historical past.

Only a few folks learn about Anderson. Alberta’s provincial curriculum outright ignores her. 

LISTEN | Bashir Mohamed on Alberta’s historical past of Black resistance

Black on the Prairies9:09Bashir Mohamed on Alberta’s historical past of Black resistance

Bashir Mohamed was motivated to dive into Alberta’s Black historical past after experiencing racism firsthand in Edmonton. 9:09

Lulu Anderson

The case of Brown Funding Firm v Lulu Anderson lasted seven months and was determined earlier than Edmonton Decide Dubuc, who dominated in favour of the theatre. He declared that “administration might refuse admission to anybody upon refunding the value of the ticket.” 

Anderson’s case attracted nationwide consideration. The Winnipeg Tribune declared the “coloration line confirmed.” 

A crowd strains up in entrance of the Metropolitan Theatre in Edmonton. (Glenbow Archives/NC-6-8019)

Sadly, not a lot else is understood in regards to the case, as her courtroom data had been destroyed by the Alberta authorities in 1971, together with all case recordsdata from 1921 to 1949. 

Little or no can be identified about Lulu herself. She was born in Atlantic Metropolis, New Jersey, in 1885. She lived close to downtown Edmonton and was 36 years previous on the time of the courtroom case. She was married to Cornwallis Anderson. It is unclear if that they had kids. 

Regardless of the dearth of particulars, her actions had been historic and should be remembered, not solely attributable to what she did, however due to the historic context that’s ignored and whitewashed. 

That historic context should be understood to appreciate the magnitude of Lulu’s stand.

Lulu Anderson was denied entry to Edmonton’s Metropolitan Theatre, regardless of have a sound ticket, in 1922. She went on to battle the theatre in courtroom. There are not any identified images of Anderson. (Brnesh Berhe)

Historic context

Black folks have lived in Alberta for greater than 200 years. The earliest recorded Black Albertans had been fur merchants who got here for work. 

The biggest wave of early Black immigration occurred within the early 1900s, with a whole lot arriving from the US. 

Sadly, they confronted massive organized resistance. Petitions had been circulated and signed by 1000’s of Edmontonians. Edmonton Metropolis Council handed a movement opposing Black settlers, saying they pushed away extra “fascinating” white settlers. 

In 1911, Lethbridge Member of Parliament CE Simmonds gave a speech entitled “We Need No Darkish Spots in Alberta.” He argued that Black Albertan’s had been among the many lowest class of immigrants. He feared a big wave of Black immigration and, “Alberta being known as Black Alberta. We don’t need this identify hooked up to us nor will we wish to have the province Black in Spots.”

Dr. Ella Synge, a gynecologist, was quoted within the Edmonton Bulletin saying that Black males had been a hazard to white ladies. She predicted, “the finger of destiny pointing to lynch legislation … which would be the final end result as certain as we enable such folks to settle amongst us.” 

This group by white Albertan’s pressured the federal and provincial authorities to make immigration tougher. Actually, historians have discovered that docs doing medical exams on the border had been supplied bonuses for every Black individual refused entry. 

An extended historical past

Those that did immigrate — regardless of this mass white fragility and terrorism — confronted limitations so horrifying that I really feel their exclusion from our curriculum and historical past books should be intentional.

For instance, in 1914, Charles Daniel was refused admission to the Sherman Grand Theatre in Calgary and sued the theatre. The Calgary Herald headline for this story was “Calgary N—-r Kicks Up Fuss” (it didn’t use dashes in its unique type). 

In 1924, the newly opened Borden Park swimming pool in Edmonton refused Black patrons regardless of advocacy by native Black households. 

Within the Nineteen Twenties and Nineteen Thirties, Edmonton hospitals refused Black sufferers. Whereas this stage of cruelty could shock you, it should be famous that well being care and white supremacy are linked, particularly within the Prairies. For instance, a ward of the Moose Jaw Hospital was funded by the Klan and a plaque was affixed devoted to “confederation…our public colleges, legislation and order, separation of church and state, freedom of speech and press, white supremacy.”

In 1938, Rhumah Utendale tried to interrupt this connection by turning into the primary Black nurse in Edmonton. She was refused admission to nursing coaching faculty as a result of she was Black.

In 1940, white troopers from the Calgary Highlanders launched a race riot in response to a Black musician speaking to a white girl. Army police arrived after Black property was broken and marched the troopers dwelling to their barracks. It’s unclear if any had been charged. 

In 1959, Ted King, the president of the Alberta Affiliation for the Development of Colored Individuals, was refused admission at a Calgary motel and later sued. He misplaced the case and the decide lashed out at him for utilizing the courts to pursue “social justice.” 

Ted King, the president of the Alberta Affiliation for the Development of Colored Individuals, was refused admission at to Barclay’s Motel in Calgary in 1959. He later sued the motel. (Brnesh Berhe)

These are only a few examples of the limitations Black Albertans confronted. They show how hostile and systemic racism towards Black folks was. 

This historical past solely additional reveals how courageous Lulu Anderson was in launching her courtroom case and may stress us into including this historical past into our curriculum.

Correcting this fallacious

Provincial governments starting from the social democratic NDP to the conservative UCP have promised to incorporate Black historical past in Alberta’s curriculum. Regardless of a long time of advocacy, this historical past stays absent.

Dr. Jennifer Kelly, a professor within the division of training coverage on the College of Alberta, mentioned in an interview that Black individuals are typically not considered a part of mainstream Canadian society. 

“Typically we’re considered non permanent,” Kelly mentioned. “We’re not seen as reliable and a few of our considerations aren’t seen as reliable.”

She mentioned this results in solely white or European folks being seen as “genuine residents.”

“[Black people] are what Ralph Klien would describe as ‘particular curiosity teams.’ Which was used to disclaim no matter declare was made by a gaggle in society,” Kelly mentioned.

I reached out to Alberta’s training minister for this story. Their workplace responded with a press release about dedication to together with provincial Black historical past in Alberta’s future Ok-12 curriculum. It mentioned the UCP authorities “have engaged numerous specialists, together with Black students.” 

No timeline for together with Black historical past within the curriculum was offered.

No matter when it occurs, Dr. Kelly mentioned the way it’s carried out is simply as vital. She mentioned the subject is complicated as a result of “the previous is one thing that’s current. It’s current in nationwide custom — what we select to acknowledge.” 

This level is probably additional related in our present political local weather, nonetheless contemporary from the huge protests following the homicide of George Floyd. 

It is vital to notice that this historical past isn’t supposed to “disgrace” white Canadians. 

“It isn’t about intent. Individuals say ‘I am not a racist.’ That isn’t the purpose,” Dr. Kelly mentioned.

“The purpose is that racism is just like the air we breathe. We can not escape it. So except we actively battle towards it issues will revert to what’s the norm.”

Acknowledging is first step to fixing

I am unable to assist however suppose that the norm Dr. Kelly refers to is the racism and discrimination Black Albertans face to this present day. 

Earlier I detailed a protracted and constant timeline of segregation, race riots and exclusion. The racism that triggered this stuff has not gone away. You will need to perceive that there isn’t a magic line the place racism ‘ended.’

Emmell Summerville, an 11-year-old Black boy, was questioned about gang affiliation after sporting a do-rag to his Edmonton faculty in 2019. (Brnesh Berhe)

This disturbing timeline continues to this present day. A Black pupil may be accused of being in gangs only for sporting a do-rag. Black Albertans usually tend to be ‘carded’ than white Edmontonians.

I used to be known as a n—-r whereas using my bike dwelling simply 4 years in the past.

This actuality is painful, however it’s also vital to grasp that Black historical past extends past the ache that Black folks had been and nonetheless are topic to. Black pleasure and hope should even be on the forefront of this new curriculum in order that we’re correctly represented. 

Regardless, step one of fixing an issue is acknowledging it exists. Acknowledging this historical past and Lulu Anderson’s story will transfer Alberta towards being a province that now not whitewashes its historical past. 


The Black on the Prairies undertaking is supported by Being Black in Canada. For extra tales in regards to the experiences of Black Canadians, try Being Black in Canada right here.

(CBC)

About PARTH SHAH

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