Canada Black History Month

Canada Black History Month, Black History Month, and the Canadian at Lincoln’s deathbed [corrected] A few years back I came upon one of those historical footnotes that gets you thinking: after Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, as he lay dying in a boarding house across the street from the Ford Theater, one of the small group that watched over him was Dr. Anderson Abbott, Canada’s first black physician.

Reading the Prime Minister’s statement today in recognition of Black History Month, my mind’s eye again created the tableau of Lincoln’s deathbed and the singular Canadian in the room.

Stephen Harper makes reference today to black Canadians who fought in the War of 1812 (thanks, Farandwide); last year, he reminded us of black icons ranging from a rodeo cowboy, to a newspaper owner, to Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. All worthy of note, I hasten to agree.

But at the risk of hinting at a hierarchy of trailblazers, I can’t help wondering why we don’t hear more often about Abbott. What a story: a Toronto-trained black doctor who served with distinction in the Civil War, was befriended by the president, and returned to Ontario to forge an impressive medical career.

There’s a good biographical note on Abbott here, on the website of the Oxford African American Studies Center, which is headed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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