Canada Post is marking upcoming Black History Month with stamps for 2018 celebrating Lincoln M. Alexander and Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone, two prominent Black Canadians who shattered barriers for visible minorities in Canada. (Photo: canadapost.ca)
February is Black History Month - Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone
Posted on Thursday February 22, 2018
Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone (1918-1975) was born in London, Ontario, in 1918. Her parents, James and Christina Jenkins founded the Dawn of Tomorrow, a pioneering publication for Canada’s Black community in 1921. From a young age, she was interested in the performing arts, studying music in Toronto and Ottawa.
During the Second World War, Kay Livingston worked at the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in Ottawa. It was in Ottawa that she began a career as a radio host with “The Kathleen Livingstone Show.” In 1942, she married George Livingstone, and they moved to Toronto where they raised their children. Livingstone maintained her acting career, hosted radio programs on several stations, including the CBC and was called “one of Canada’s leading Black actresses” during this time.
Livingstone worked to break down prejudice and promote equality of individuals of all origins and contributed to the development of a more tolerant society. She was deeply involved in expanding a collective awareness and pride in the Toronto Black community in the post-Second World War period. As well, she worked with the United Nations Association – Toronto Branch Women’s Auxiliary, the local YWCA Foreign Affairs Committee, the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches, the Legal Aid Society, and Heritage Ontario.
Livingstone was a founder of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (1951). An early Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA) undertaking, and one which would continue throughout the group’s existence, was the provision of scholarships to deserving Black students. Later activities included the organization of the Calypso Carnival (forerunner of the Caribana Festival) as a fundraiser for other service projects.
Kay Livingstone actively engaged in creating a Canada-wide network of African-Canadian women. She was the driving force behind the first National Black Women’s Congress (1973), providing a national forum to address the concerns of Black women and advance their causes. Perhaps most importantly, the Congress inspired the delegates to maintain close ties with each other, leading to further conventions at Montreal in 1974, Halifax in 1976, Windsor in 1978, and Winnipeg in 1980. It was at the Winnipeg meeting that the Congress of Black Women was formed, an organization which today has over 600 members and is one of Kay Livingstone’s legacies.
In the last years of her life, Kay worked as a consultant to the Privy Council of Canada, travelling the country in preparation for a conference on visible minorities in Canada (a term with which she is credited with coining). One of the people she met on these travels was Carrie Best; it is a credit to Kay Livingstone’s influence that after her death in 1975, Ms. Best formed the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women’s Society in her honour, an organization which to this day provides educational funding for deserving young women.