Sunday, April 22, 2012

Leonard Braithwaite, Canada’s first black parliamentarian, dead at 88

April 5, 2012 5:30 PM

Leonard Braithwaite October 23, 1923 – March 28, 2012

Today Premier Dalton McGuinty released the following statement on the death of Leonard Braithwaite:

"I was saddened to hear of the passing of Leonard Braithwaite. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends -- especially his sons Roger and David.

Leonard lived a long, remarkable life -- one that was characterized by his strong convictions, passion for public service and powerful sense of justice. 

He proudly served his country and fought against oppression during World War II as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war, he became the first black Canadian to be elected as a member of provincial parliament.  As an MPP, Leonard spoke out against racial segregation in our schools and called for the admission of female pages in the legislature. His determination to see Ontario do what was right and just by all its citizens helped make our province the open, diverse and caring place it is today. 

We have lost a trailblazer, a champion and a friend -- but he leaves behind a tremendous legacy in the strong, diverse province he helped build."

Leonard Braithwaite

Image: Leonard Braithwaite (courtesy Ontario Black History Society)

Leonard Braithwaite was the first African Canadian in a provincial legislature when he was elected in Ontario in 1963. He served as a Liberal member of the Ontario legislature from 1963 to 1975. In his first speech to the legislature he spoke out against racial segregation in Ontario schools. Soon after, the Ontario government repealed the law that allowed school segregation.

Braithwaite was raised in the Kensington Market area of Toronto during the Depression and served in the RCAF in the Second World War. He attended the University of Toronto, where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He earned a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School, graduating in 1952, and graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1958, followed by a career in law. He was the first Black lawyer elected as a member of the Governing Council of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Braithwaite began his political career in 1960 as a member of the Etobicoke board of education. Two years later he was elected as an alderman on the Etobicoke council and ran in the provincial election in 1963, defeating the Progressive Conservative candidate. He was re-elected in 1967 and 1971, serving as the Liberal Party Critic for Labour and Welfare. As a politician he fought for gender equality and the rights of minorities.

In 1998, Braithwaite was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2004.

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