for edward bailey
In this 1932 Grade 8 class photo sits a young Black boy, front-row centre. The boy is sitting awkwardly with only one of his shirt buttons done up while everyone else is well dressed and put together.
I was curious about the name of the student. So I dug up the yearbook and noticed that classmates wrote short quotes about one another.
One quote stood out to me - it said, ‘Stanley Petherbridge was walking down the street with the Birth of A Nation behind him.’ This surprised me. 'The Birth of A Nation' was a film that glorified the Klan and depicted Black people as uncivilized. It's disturbing to imagine being a lone Black student and having 'Birth of a Nation' referenced to you or referenced to a fellow classmate.
This made me wonder, was the Black student Stanley or someone else? Initially, I thought the quote was referencing the lone Black student. To find out, more digging needed to be done at the archives.
I'll mention more about the process later but for now I can confirm that the students name is Edward Bailey.
This photo struck me and made me wonder what life was like for Edward. He was living in a city run by a man the Klan helped elect, going to school a few kilometers away from their headquarters, and living in a time that saw frequent city-sanctioned cross burnings.
In order to understand the impact this had on Edward's life we must understand the history of Alberta and the anti-Black discrimination faced by Black Albertans.
Daniel Williams, known by the public as ‘Nigger Dan,’ was a freed slave who worked in northern Alberta as a fur trader during the mid to late 1800s. Early Black Albertans were often robbed of their last name and were commonly referred to as “Nigger” then their first name. Examples include the geographic location Nigger John Ridge (named after rancher John Ware until 1970) and 'Nigger' Molly, the first Black woman in Medicine Hat.
Daniel Williams began his life as a slave on a Georgian plantation. Once gaining freedom, he worked as a fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was described as a ‘giant negro’ and was known to be the best shot in North-Western Canada. Later in his life, he was accused of spreading terror from the ‘Slave Lakes to the Klondike.’ The nature of his crimes were unclear but it was enough for him to be tried in Edmonton and hanged in Fort Saskatchewan. He had no defense counsel.
Daniel’s case is unique in that it is an early case of how Black criminality was used to scare the white Canadian population and perhaps one of the earliest cases of these stereotypical descriptions used towards Black Albertans.
Daniel’s story is important to understand since this would manifest itself much more prominently with the introduction of larger waves of Black immigration.
WE WANT NO DARK SPOTS IN ALBERTA.
In 1911, a Lethbridge Member of Parliament gave a speech in Edmonton opposing a wave of Black farmers coming from Oklahoma. His speech ‘We Want No Dark Spots in Alberta’ was meant to outline his opposition to Black immigration. He spoke about different classes of Albertans and how Black people were among the lowest class and were unable to properly integrate in Alberta. He closed his argument saying that ‘we do not want our province Black in spots.’
Like Daniel Williams, stereotypical tropes surrounding Black people - specifically Black men - were central to the opposition of Black immigration by many in Albertan society. It is what led Isobel Graham, the women’s editor of the Guide, to write that “there can scarcely be anyone who is not aware of the atrocities committed by members of these terrible communities - the only corresponding punishment for which is the lawless lynching… already it is reported that three white women in Edmonton and Peace River districts have been victims of these outrages.”
This myth was also in city papers. On April 6, 1911, the Edmonton Bulletin ran the headline ‘NEGRO ATTACKS A LITTLE GIRL.’ A girl said she was attacked and a search party was organized. It was alleged a Black man stole a diamond ring.
Two black men were arrested and placed in custody.
On April 13, 1911, the Edmonton Capital ran the headline ‘Police Hoodwinked By A Young Girl’ highlighting that the girl ‘lost the ring and was afraid to report the loss to her parents.’ The two Black men held were released.
This theme continued when the City of Edmonton barred Black patrons from one of the first public pools in 1924. The rationale, as described by Aldermen Joseph Adair was that, “It was inconceivable that a white woman would want to swim in a pool with Black men.”
These local cases, while disturbing, highlight the impact of the sterotypical criminality and hyper-sexualization of Black men. Opposition to Black immigration was also unique in the sense that they were barred from city pools, theatres, and not allowed in city bars. In fact, Edmonton was central to drawing the colour line in the early rejection of Black Albertans from city pubs.
BIRTH OF A NATION
The Birth of A Nation premiered in 1915 and was meant to change the narrative surrounding the American Civil War and promote the Klan. This was done by portraying Black men as “unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women”, in addition to portraying the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force.
The film was important since it led to the rise of the second wave of the Klan and led to the Klan adopting infamous practices such as cross burnings. In addition, it continued to reinforce the idea of Black people as criminals and sexual beasts. In one scene, a white woman jumps off a cliff rather than be raped by a Black man.
The film was popular in Edmonton, which hosted sold-out shows and was performed with a full orchestra. The Edmonton Bulletin ran a review calling it a ‘marvellous production.’
Stereotypical depictions of Black people were common in Alberta, exemplified by the popularity of minstrel shows throughout the city - this included parades downtown with MLA’s depicted as ‘niggers’ along with Edmonton Mayor William Henry’s appearance in blackface.
These attitudes and depictions are important to understand since they were central to the structures of power that resisted Black immigration.
Ku Klux Klan
The Klan emerged in Canada in the 1920s and had chapters throughout the country. Alberta’s Klan was the brainchild of J.J. Maloney who based the Klan in Edmonton and set up chapters throughout Alberta.
The Klan in Alberta was not a small organization and boasted members in the thousands with an official circulation of 250,000 for their paper ‘the Liberator.’ For J.J. Maloney, the Klan was meant to be an organized political machine. This can be seen in the 1931 election where they campaigned for Daniel Knott to be Mayor of Edmonton. He won the election and to celebrate, the Klan lit a cross on Connors Hill. Once in office, they exchanged letters requesting cross burnings at Northlands. Despite opposition from the fire chief, the Mayor approved these burnings, signing ‘yours truly.’
Their influence moved beyond the municipal level with Premier Brownlee donating money to the Klan - something he admitted. In addition, a sworn affidavit by the Grand Kleagle of the Klan said that Joseph Clarke, former Mayor and MLA, and Charles Stewart, former Premier, wanted to use the Klan as a political machine.
The Klan also held social prominence and hosted celebrations at the Hotel MacDonald - the best hotel in the city. They were also aggressive and sent threatening letters to those who opposed them.
With the historical context established, we can now discuss how we know that the lone Black student is named Edward. We can also confirm that the quote was referencing a white classmate.
A few months ago, I shared the class photo on twitter and had a CBC journalist, Kyle Muzyka, contact me. They were curious about the story and wanted to find out more about who exactly that student was. This was a relief because I was relatively busy and couldn't find the time to go to the archives.
I gave them the information I had and I got an update in April. Kyle contacted a friend at the Edmonton Public School Board archives. It turns out that the medical files for students were kept and that race was included in those documents.
After searching through the documents, Kyle manage to come across only one that was listed as 'African.' This is how they were able to confirm his name.
Not much else is known about Edward. All we know is that his father, Robert Bailey, was a Miner and that Edward suffered from measles at a young age. Regardless, it is nice to finally put a name to the photo.
Edward's quote in the yearbook was, "Ed is retiring from the shoe business."
The Klan’s full name was ‘The Invisible Empire: Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.’ It is said, ‘Invisible Empire’ came from encounters with prominent politicians who said they were unable to support the Klan publicly, so they must be ‘invisible’. Thus, the Klan’s central power laid with the silent support and complacency of the general public.
This is what led the Klan’s influence to be effectively unchecked and is what led Alberta to be the only Canadian jurisdiction to grant the Klan provincial recognition and Edmonton being one of the few cities to sanction cross burnings. This recognition lasted until 2003.
The time when the Klan's influence peaked - the 1930’s - was the same time that Edward was going through Grade 8. In a city that did not permit Black people entrance to its theatre, city pools, or pubs.
It is important to recognize that Edward was growing up and surviving in a time where the Klan's reach and hateful message were commonplace to the point of reaching and influencing his classmates.
This history is important to understand since it has effectively been whitewashed. Anytime I learned something troubling about a local historical figure, I would go on their Wikipedia page and find nothing about their white supremacist legacy. For example, Daniel Knott's portrait is two steps outside the mayor’s office with no reference to the Klan. He also has a school named after him.
This whitewashing reinforces the notion of the ‘Invisible Empire’ and, despite the Klan no longer being formally recognized, their invisible empire still exists.
In order to end this complacency and to destroy the invisible empire, we must shift our understanding of Canadian history in order to properly question our Anti-Black racism and the impact it has to this day.
We need to question which stories are told, which stories are hidden, whose statues are up, and whose are not. This is important because Black history is more than just telling select stories of triumph, but it is necessary to provide the context for these triumphs. To understand the resistance Black Edmontonians faced and the power structures they fought against.
Doing this will allow us to heal and move forward. It was too late for Edward but it is not too late for us.