Lawyer; Politician; Canada; Black History
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was a prominent personality in Canada’s quest for racial equity. Against all odds, he uplifted Canadian success stories over racial prejudice. As Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut, said in his quote, the white’s limited imaginations of blacks did not limit Alexander.
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was born to immigrant parents in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on January 21, 1922. His mother, Mae Rose, a Jamaican, worked as a maidservant. Lincoln Sr.’s father had come from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Though a carpenter by training, Lincoln Sr. worked as a porter.
Alexander enjoyed sports, such as soccer, track, softball, hockey, and boxing, though his father wanted him to be a pianist. They were members of the Baptist church, Toronto.
Before her marriage, Mae Rose had a son, Ridley “Bunny” Wright, in 1920. Lincoln Sr. never accepted Bunny. The couple had another son, Hughie, born in 1924.
While Alexander was a teenager, his parents separated, and he lived in New York City with his mother. Here, Alexander met high-caliber role models, which stiffened his resolve to rise above being a porter.
Education and Career
Alexander studied at Earl Grey Public School. In his kindergarten class, he was the only African American. He attended Riverdale Collegiate Institute when his family moved to Toronto. He was the only member of his family who attended DeWitt Clinton High School in New York.
In 1949, Alexander earned a degree in Economics and History from McMaster University, Ontario. In 1953, he graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto. While studying here, he challenged the Dean to avoid inappropriate language during lectures.
Second World War Period
Alexander moved back to Toronto after the World War in 1939. His age deterred him from being recruited to the armed forces. Hence, he worked at a factory in Hamilton.
In 1942, Alexander became part of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), but his poor eyesight made him ineligible for battle. At his honorable discharge in 1945, he had a corporal rank. He could not serve at a bar in Vancouver because of racial prejudice.
In 1948, Alexander married Yvonne Harrison at 25. Her parents were Robert Harrison and Edythe (née Lewis). In 1949, they had a son, Keith Lincoln Alexander.
Alexander’s mother suffered from dementia and died in 1948, at 49. Four years later, his father, Lincoln Sr., committed suicide.
Yvonne died in 1999, having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. In 2011, Alexander married his second wife, Marni Beal.
Law and Politics
Alexander began practicing criminal law in Hamilton and later started his firm. He received the honorary title of queen’s counsel by the Ontario government in 1965.
He shifted his ambitions from law to politics. In 1960, he toured 23 African countries, as stated in his 2006 memoir. This changed his view of life.
In 1962, Alexander partnered with colleagues to form the United Nations law firm. He joined politics in 1965 and ran for Hamilton West MP but lost. He won the seat in 1968 and became the first black Canadian MP. Alexander served in this position for 12 years.
Alexander and John Lundrigan, the Newfoundland MP, were crucial figures in provoking the “fuddle duddle” incident in the House of Commons in 1971.
In 1979, Alexander became the first black person to serve in the Cabinet after being appointed labor minister. He resigned in 1980 to become the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board chair.
In 1985, Lincoln Alexander became the first black lieutenant governor. He fought racism, advanced the welfare of youths, and advocated for seniors.
He served as governor until 1991 and became the University of Guelph’s chancellor (chancellor emeritus) on a five-year term. In 2000, he received an appointment as the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s chair.
On October 19, 2012, Alexander died in his sleep at 90. They gave him a state send-off. He was survived by Keith (son), his second wife (Marni), Joyce (daughter-in-law), and Erika and Marissa (grandchildren).
Schools named after Alexander included Hamilton (1989), Ajax (1992), Mississauga (2000), and expressway (1997). Yearly, the 21st of January became Lincoln Alexander Day, as declared in 2013 by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Toronto’s Ryerson University was renamed Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University on May 6, 2021, during an online event.
Awards and Honors
Alexander earned honorary degrees from Queen’s University (1992), Royal Military College (1991), York University (1990), Western University (1988), McMaster University (1987), and University of Toronto (1986).
He won many awards, including Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), Lifetime Achievement Harry Jerome Awards (2001), Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (1997), Canadian Forces Decoration (1994), Companion of the Order of Canada (1992), Member of the Order of Ontario (1992), Caribana Cultural Committee (1984), and Cultural Achievement Award.
Alexander was well known for his compassion, humanity, and sound judgment. He became involved in remarkable events that shaped him as a charismatic and influential leader whose impact is still felt today.
The Black Male Archives
- Lincoln Alexander, Black Canadian Politician
- Lincoln Alexander
- Lincoln MacCauley Alexander (1922-2012)