The life and legacy of Howard McCurdy

Miranda Monahan
By Miranda Monahan March 2, 2018 13:29

By Miranda Monahan

Howard Douglas McCurdy Jr., a well-respected civil rights activist, the first African-Canadian university professor to receive tenure and Canada’s second African-Canadian Member of Parliament, has died.

McCurdy has been called compassionate, and lived a life of historic firsts. He founded the Guardian Club, an organization to fight Windsor’s racism problem.

I think my father was a highly intelligent, courageous, stubborn, powerful, deeply caring man. He was a leader, pioneer and teacher who suffered neither fools nor injustice lightly,” said Leslie McCurdy, McCurdy’s daughter.

McCurdy was born Dec. 10, 1932 in London, Ont. and moved to Amherstburg at the age of nine. When McCurdy tried to join the Cub Scouts at the age of nine, he was turned down and told to form an African-Canadian-only troop. This racism would only motivate McCurdy.

Brian Masse, NDP, MP in the riding of Windsor-West, said in a statement made in the House of Commons on Feb. 26, social justice was McCurdy’s calling.

“He never stopped advocating for people and a more equal Canada. He was a leader in every sense and was a founding member of the National Black Coalition,” said Masse.

McCurdy’s family had ties to the underground railroad. His great-great grandfather, Nasa McCurdy, was an agent on the underground railroad and helped African-American slaves escape to Canada during the 1800s.

McCurdy earned two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a PhD. He served as Michigan State University’s president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

He became the first person of colour to hold a tenure track position at a Canadian university. McCurdy founded the Canadian College of Microbiologists and served as its president until 1980.

“My dad was the first chairman of the Board of Directors at St. Clair College,” said Leslie.

In 1979, McCurdy was elected as an alderman (member of council) for the city of Windsor. He became the first African-Canadian MP for the NDP and served until he was defeated in the 1993 federal election.

Percy Hatfield, a local NDP MPP, remembers McCurdy as a “great man” and his time covering McCurdy as a reporter.

“Dr. Howard McCurdy was one of a kind. He was educated, charismatic, sophisticated, usually the best dressed man in the room – handsome, funny – and a man who fought racism most of his life,” said Hatfield.

McCurdy won several awards throughout his life and career, including the Canadian Centennial Medal, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal and J.S. Woodsworth Award for Human Rights. In 2012, McCurdy was designated a member of the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.

On Feb. 20, 2018, McCurdy died at the age of 85. He is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

I is unknown at this time how McCurdy’s legacy will be publically preserved, but his daughter would like to see him remembered for his many contributions.

“I would like to see him at least mentioned in our history books. We don’t often speak of the civil rights struggle that occurred in Canada, focusing primarily on the ills that existed in the United States, but my father was one of the leaders of that fight,” said Leslie.

“His legacy is preserved through his family and the work that we all continue to do, maybe not as openly and publicly as he did, but we all continue what he taught us in some way. Hatfield thinks the city should publically establish McCurdy’s legacy. 

“I believe the City of Windsor should consider a lasting memorial of some kind to Dr. McCurdy, but I would leave that up to them. Howard would be the first to tell you the journey his ancestors started on the road to freedom – along that underground railroad – on the path to equity and acceptance – is a journey that is far from over. Racism exists today in Canada and there is much more work to be done,” said Hatfield.

Miranda Monahan
By Miranda Monahan March 2, 2018 13:29

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