Violet King Henry is a name that resonates profoundly in the annals of Canadian history. Born on October 18, 1929, in Calgary, Alberta, Violet was destined to break barriers and pave the way for future generations of black women in Canada. She was a beacon of hope, defying the odds and rising to prominence in a society riddled with racial prejudice and discrimination.
The Early Life of Violet King Henry
Violet’s roots trace back to a significant migration in North America. Her father, John King, along with his extended family, relocated to Amber Valley, Alberta in 1911. This migration was a part of the larger Great Migration wave where African Americans sought better opportunities and to escape the racial animus in the South. The Canadian government, although initially expecting white settlers, invited these Southern US farmers, hoping they’d boost the agrarian economy. Thus, Violet’s family settled in Keystone, now known as Breton, Alberta.
Violet King Henry demonstrated leadership early in her high school days at Crescent Heights. She served as President of Girls Association during her senior year and pursued criminal law with passion, eventually enrolling at University of Alberta where she joined progressive clubs such as Blue Stocking Club – becoming Alberta’s first black woman lawyer upon her graduation in 1953. Violet made history again as Alberta’s first Black person ever to earn a Law Degree – and one year later the country’s first Black woman Lawyer!
A Glimpse into her Illustrious Career
Dedication, resilience, and excellence defined Violet’s professional life. After her graduation, she moved to Ottawa around 1956, joining the federal civil service. Here, she took up a significant administrative role at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a tenure during which Canada witnessed its first woman member of the cabinet, Ellen Fairclough, and initiated crucial steps to root out racism and uphold the Bill of Rights.
Her journey took her south to the United States in 1963, where she took up executive roles with the YW/YMCA in cities like Newark and Chicago. She became a pillar in the community, assisting African Americans in securing employment. By 1976, her leadership skills were in full display when she was appointed the Executive Director of the national Council of YMCA’s Organisational Development Group.
The Untimely Death of a Legend
Tragic events unfolded on March 30, 1982 when Violet King Henry passed away suddenly in New York at just 52. Her death marked a turning point, yet her legacy lives on; prior to passing she achieved yet another achievement by becoming the first woman ever appointed as senior management at an American national YMCA branch.
Legacy and Honours
In 2022, the world remembered and honoured Violet King Henry for her innumerable contributions, especially in Canadian law and Black education. The University of Alberta instituted the “Violet King Henry Law School Award,” offering a substantial scholarship for Black students, symbolising her lifelong commitment to education and racial equality.
Violet has long stood against oppression of people of colour within society and workplace environments, inspiring generations by challenging the status quo with her speeches such as that given at Beta Sigma Phi Sorority Banquet or through professional endeavors. She remains an example of what can be accomplished when one has both determination to challenge it and vision for change.