Rosemary Brown, April 26, 2003, at 72Monday, April 28 2003
Rosemary Brown, April 26, 2003, at 72Rosemary Brown, feminist activist and the first black woman to be elected to political office in Canada, died on in Vancouver of an apparent heart attack on April 26, 2003. She was 72.Brown Was Beautiful
by Judy Rebick, April 29, 2003. Reprinted with permission from www.rabble.ca
It was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vancouver Status of Women and Rosemary Brown was reminiscing about the early days of the women’s movement.
“We were so naïve in those days,” she told the packed audience. “We thought if we just explained the problems women were facing to the politicians, things would change.”
Other pioneer feminists told me they were never that naïve but the thing about Rosemary was that she always believed that change would come if only people would understand the need for it. She had that rare kind of positive spirit. That’s why it’s so hard to believe she is gone. Rosemary passed away this weekend at the age of 72.
The first black woman to serve in a legislature in Canada, Rosemary was an MLA in British Columbia in 1972. When women were still a rarity in politics, Rosemary served for fourteen years. In 1975, she took on the battle for leadership of the federal New Democratic Party, the first woman to ever run for the leadership of a party. She came in second after four ballots on a wave of feminist organizing that would change that party in a profound way. Rosemary just didn’t accept any barriers. Her slogan was “Brown is Beautiful.”
In a biography of Brown published by CoolWomen, the origins of her feminism are explained: By 1967, Rosemary Brown had three children, a Masters of Social Work, a hysterectomy and an unyielding depression. Somebody gave her a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. ‘Suddenly it was all there,’ she recalled, ‘the story of my life... The fact that I was not alone reassured me and mobilized me.’ Yet she felt conflict, externally and internally; white women did not seem to understand racism, and people of colour did not consider sexism a major issue. She explained her perspective in a 1973 speech, saying in part, ‘...to be Black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up!’About ten years ago, when the women’s movement was suffering from divisions caused by racism, I went to talk to Rosemary to get more insight into what was happening. From the outside, it seemed that as a black woman Rosemary had always been integrated into the leadership of the women’s movement. Was racism a problem she faced inside the women’s movement? I asked.
Rosemary spent a long time telling me stories of the racism she faced over the years in the women’s movement. It was often subtle but always present. The fact that the early women’s movement is always described as white and middle class when she and other women of colour and aboriginal women played a key role in those early days was a sign of their invisibility.
That the first woman to run for the leadership of a political party in Canada was a black woman should be a matter of pride for the feminist movement — for the entire country — but it is rarely even mentioned. Every school child in the United States knows the name of Rosa Parks, but how many know in Canada the name of Rosemary Brown?MATCH International Centre News Release
Ottawa, April 28, 2003 - The Board and Staff of MATCH International Centre express our profound sorrow at the sudden death of Rosemary Brown P.C., O.C, O.B.C., President of MATCH International Centre and extend our condolences to her family and friends.
Ms. Brown had a long association with MATCH International Centre, founded in 1976, serving first as Executive Director from 1989 - 1990, Special Ambassador 1992 - 1997 and as Board President from 1998 until her untimely death on April 26, 2003.
A tireless worker and advocate for social justice, Rosemary Brown was known for her passionate and active support of the work of MATCH International Centre - an international development organization run by and for women in some of the poorest countries of the world. She was an articulate equality rights campaigner and throughout her life worked towards achieving social and economic equality, particularly for the elimination of violence against women and children in both the public and private spheres.
Earlier this year she led another groundbreaking activity on behalf of MATCH International Centre - an organization she always referred to as a 'miracle'- by facilitating a dialogue held in Ghana on Citizenship and Identity between Ghanaian women and Latin American women of African descent from Peru and Honduras.
"Rosemary Brown's life is an inspiration for women around the world. Women in the south admired the uncompromising stance that she took as MATCH's spokesperson on development and globalization issues", said Ms. Salma Sobhan a Board Member from Asia. CoolWomen is featuring Rosemary Brown at www.coolwomen.ca. ************* This memorial statement was released on May 5, 2003 by Rosemary Brown's husband, Dr. Bill Brown. He asked that it be circulated widely. With respect to the second last paragraph below, please note that Amina Lawal is not scheduled to be executed on June 3rd -- this is the date of her next appeal hearing. Hon. Dr. Rosemary Brown, P.C., O.C., O.B.C. In Memoriam Vancouver, May 5, 2003 - We want to express our profound gratitude to the people of Vancouver, of British Columbia; to our fellow Canadians, to the people of Jamaica and people throughout the world for standing together with us at this time. Rosemary's life speaks to our best instincts for solidarity. Her life challenges us to be faithful to our selves -- to make sure that we do not live hypocritically but live instead in meaningful equality and social justice. This challenge is addressed to all of us, and in particular to those entrusted with governance; it is taken up by the new generations of women in public life today - in politics, in law, in health care, in social work, the labour movement, and media. Rosemary's life speaks to our inviolable dignity as human beings. Her life reminds us that no one is disposible -- not women, not children, not friends or adversaries, or indeed whole races. Her life calls us to be faithful to the promise of human rights -- in our personal lives and as a society -- and to bring an end to men's violence against women -- at home and throughout the world. Rosemary died suddenly, but peacefully at home in the presence of her loving husband. All women are not surrounded by such gentleness and tender compassion. Amina Lawal is sentenced by Nigeria's Sharia courts to be buried up to her neck on June 3rd and stoned to death - exactly two weeks before Rosemary's 73rd birthday. This ritualized violence of men against women must stop. Women right here at home are often reduced to feeding their children out of foodbanks, and conscripted to provide health care services around the clock to family members. This violence also must stop. Today's service, celebrated by Bishop Michael Ingham, is a paschal mystery. It is a visible sign of our certainty that death will not have the last word on Rosemary. A new spring time is coming for her, and for all who hunger and thirst for justice. We mourn her loss, but with confidence that we shall see her again because the just do not labour in vain, and they will not sleep forever.