Lincoln Alexander was a leading figure in the fight for racial equity in Canada. In provincial, federal, public and private roles, he consistently advocated for the equal treatment of black Canadians.
These are snapshots – moments from his life as a pioneer – taken from an interview conducted by Philip Sworden in March 1997.
“and I said, ‘you go down and tell them the next time I walk into that place, as a corporal, wearing the uniform of an Air Force person, that they serve me.’”
In the Air Force Lincoln Alexander served as a wireless operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.
While stationed in Vancouver, Alexander was refused service at a bar because of his race. When he reported the incident to a superior officer, and the officer refused to take action, Alexander quit the Air Force, leaving in 1945 with an honourable discharge.
“at that time they didn’t know how to deal with race relations of this sort of thing, they just turned a blind eye to it.”
“I don’t know what ever made me stand up and ask him that in a class of 200 people. . . . But I will tell you one thing, that day made me a man.”
As a law student in 1953, Lincoln Alexander once told the Dean that he was using inappropriate language in a lecture. This comment divided the class between those who thought Alexander was right, and those who thought the Dean could use whatever language he liked.
“I remember how that happened. . . .somebody called me and said, ‘Bill Davis wants to talk to you.’
“I said [to the Premier], ‘do you think this is going to give you the black vote around here, the vote of the visible minority. . . ?’ I will never forget his look; he was extremely angry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
In 1980, Premier Bill Davis asked Lincoln Alexander to become Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Board. Alexander misinterpreted his request. Alexander called the role “a hell of a job.”
In 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Governor General Jeanne Sauvé appointed Alexander as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He became the first black person to serve in a vice regal position in Canada.
In 2000, Alexander was named Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he remained an active spokesperson for race relations and veterans' issues.
“[The General] said, ‘. . . you have got a hell of a job because [racism] is all over the place.’ And he is right. But because it is all over the place doesn’t give you the right to sit back and say, ‘well, we can’t try to eradicate it, lessen it.’ I think we have to be in the forefront, and let these people know that it is evil, it is terrible.”
“All I try to do, is to do a job and to do it well.”