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Leading the Way for Minority Rights and Women in Canada

For the week of Monday, October 12, 2015

On October 13, 1918, Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone (née Jenkins) was born in London, Ontario. Her parents founded the newspaper The Dawn of Tomorrow and instilled in Kay an early sense of community and civil rights. Throughout her life, she would be an inspiration for many, and a leading voice for Black women in Canada.

Kay Livingstone, 1918-1975
Hill, Lawrence. Women of Vision: the story of the Canadian Negro Women's Association, 1951-1976. Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1996. © Ontario Black History Society (OBHS)
Livingstone displayed a love of performing even at a young age. After studying the performing arts she went on to a successful career both on stage and on screen. In 1942, she married African-Canadian George Livingstone and the couple moved to Toronto. She hosted several radio shows including “the Kay Livingstone Show” on CBC, which highlighted poetry, music, and Black cultures from around the world.

In 1951, Livingstone joined a social club called The Dilettantes, and quickly repurposed the club to become more socially active. She became its first president and the group changed its name to the Canadian Negro Women’s Association. CANEWA was active within Canada and was a unique group at the crossroads of the civil rights and feminist movements. It encouraged the advancement of Blacks in society and, in the late 1950s organized the first Negro History Week.

Livingstone made history in 1973 by spearheading the organization of the first National Congress of Black Women of Canada. This meeting included guest speakers from across the country with discussions on topics such as education, immigration, and the portrayal of Blacks in the media. The event inspired many other conferences and organizations across Canada.

Kay Livingstone presenting Percy Rodriguez with an Award of Merit in the field of theatre, 1961.
Hill, Lawrence. Women of Vision: the story of the Canadian Negro Women's Association, 1951-1976. Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1996. © CANEWA

Later in life, Livingstone worked as a consultant for the Privy Council. She also travelled the country gathering information for a conference on minority women. She is often credited with coining the term “visible minorities.” She died in 1975. Among her legacies is today's Congress of Black Women of Canada, and the Kay Livingstone Memorial Scholarship.

For her tireless efforts to create a nation-wide network of Black Women and for her fight for equality, Kay Livingstone was designated a National Historic Person on July 19, 2011. For more information about Black women in Canada visit Breaking Down Racial Barriers Through Music, Ahead of Her Time: Marie Marguerite Rose and The Legendary Harriet Tubman.

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