Depending on your age, you may not be familiar with the tremendous life of the late Howard McCurdy — but around Windsor, you’ve almost certainly heard his name.
Dr. McCurdy’s wife, Brenda, hopes his book Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon: The Autobiography of Dr. Howard D. McCurdy will introduce the next generation to the trailblazer.
“There’s a whole generation that’s coming behind him who don’t know what he’s accomplished and what he did,” Brenda explained. “And so, if they can learn about that in the book, wonderful. They might learn something about a great Canadian, a lot of people probably don’t know a lot about.”
McCurdy, a microbiologist, was a professor at the University of Windsor where he became the first Black person to hold a tenure-track position at a Canadian university. He joined the faculty in 1959 and served as the head of the biology department. He worked at the University for 25 years.
“He enjoyed being there, the students loved him,” Brenda said.
“When he was active in Parliament, we’d come back to Windsor for local events. And somebody would always come up to him and say, ‘Oh, Dr. McCurdy, I was in your class. Oh, you were a good professor.’ They really liked him. And they enjoyed his teaching.”
McCurdy started his career in politics in 1979 as a Windsor city councillor — called an alderman at the time. He then moved on to become Canada’s second Black member of Parliament when he was elected in 1984 — and the first for the New Democratic Party, which he has been credited with naming.
During his career, McCurdy worked toward the advancement of civil rights, co-founding the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Guardian Club, a local civil rights organization, as well as the Windsor and District Black Coalition.
His legacy at the University of Windsor is part of the reason it was chosen as a location for the launch and signing of McCurdy’s autobiography.
Brenda, as well as Geroge Elliot Clarke, who edited the book and was a close friend and colleague of McCurdy, will be at the event on Thursday, Feb. 29, in the Essex CORe Atrium. Other events have been held at the School of Creative Arts during BookFest, the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, as well as stops in Toronto and Halifax.
Before McCurdy’s death in 2018, he selected Clarke, a Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate and professor at the University of Toronto, as his editor. After McCurdy’s death, Brenda got his book together and passed it along to Clarke, knowing it would be in good hands.
“He said, ‘I made this promise to you and Howard, and I’m going to keep my promise.’ And he said, ‘Nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing that I'm doing something by Howard.’ He worked for Howard for several years in Parliament. And those two had such a strong bond together,” Brenda said.
To get the book off the ground, Clarke would send Brenda chapters to review to get her opinion and see if McCurdy’s mood and voice were appropriately captured and conveyed to the audience.
She said the book is very comprehensive, starting with his birth and ending with his death.
“It goes through his whole life,” Brenda explained. “The whole book — childhood, university life, his political activity, work on city council — it’s all there. I think people will really enjoy reading it.”
Brenda said she hopes the book will offer readers the chance to understand the man her husband really was.
“I think people had a certain impression of him, but he was quite down to earth. I think people maybe saw him as being grumpy sometimes — and he was,” she said with a smile. “But he would snap out of it pretty quickly. But it’s because there are issues that he was very passionate about. And when he felt that passion, he spoke out about it, whether people liked to hear it or not. He spoke the truth. And I think that’s what I admire about him.”
The autobiography, Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon, is available for purchase in the Campus Bookstore, as well as online. Those interested in attending the launch are asked to RSVP by Friday, Feb. 23.