Photo of Valerie Jerome submitted by the the Owen Sound Memoir SeriesPhoto of Valerie Jerome submitted by the the Owen Sound Memoir Series

Canada's fastest family couldn't outrun racism

A note of warning: a quote in the following story contains a racial epithet.

A Canadian author will be in Owen Sound to share the story of how racism affected Canada's fastest family.

Valerie Jerome will read from her memoir, 'Races: The Trials & Triumphs of Canada’s Fastest Family', at The Owen Sound Library Memoir Series this weekend.

She recounted how members of her family endured racism for generations, including her Olympian grandfather, Army Howard, who competed at the Stockholm games 1912 where he became Canada’s first Black Olympian. Howard left Jerome's white grandmother after he realized their fourth child was not his.

"My grandmother remarried to a white man who did not want these three half-black girls who were fathered by Army Howard. And that really was brutal for my mother and those two sisters," explained Howard. "You know, my mother was wanting forever to be white, so that her mother would have kept her as she did that fourth child. And, you know, she was an angry woman. She was angry at us, she was angry at the world."

Jerome said her mother never talked about her father. She also revealed how her own experience with racism started early.

"There was lots of racism in our neighborhood, and we had been stoned off the school grounds. We were called niggers all the time," Jerome said. "We had a fire at our home. You know, the neighbours looked out the window and saw this mother with her kids on the street, but they didn't come out to offer us a bed or anything."

Jerome's family had three Olympians. Her brother Harry Jerome was the fastest man on earth in 1959 when he was 19. He ran the 100 metres in 10 seconds in Saskatoon, which was a world record shared with a German runner, Armin Harry, until the 1968 Olympics. He set another shared record in Edmonton in 1966 when he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.1 seconds. Harry Jerome won the bronze medal in the 100 metres at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo

Valerie Jerome competed in the women's 100 metres at the 1960 Summer Olympics. She was third in the 1959 Pan American Games 4 × 100 metres relay and finished seventh in the 1959 Pan American Games long jump. Jerome said track and field was an escape from a difficult life for her and her brother.

However, she said her book is not really about sport.

"It's about racism and that's in the title which is "Races," said Jerome. "We, our grandfather, and my own family, experienced some pretty horrific traumas through racism in this country. And that was the big motivation for book."

On Friday, March 1, at 7:00 p.m. Jerome will be at the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library to read from her memoir and talk about her emotional book. She will also participate in a question and answer session.

She hopes people learn how traumatic racism can be. Jerome said despite her brother's success, he was unable to rent a house in Vancouver.

"We faced a lot of name calling our lives and activities from which we were excluded," she concluded. "So, yeah, racism, you know, hurts people. And I think Canadians still have a caste system in place. I'm hoping they can figure out that, you know, we're human beings and didn't deserve that kind of treatment. Nobody does. Nobody does."

On Saturday, March 2, at 1:00 p.m., Jerome will lead a memoir-writing workshop for local writers who are working on their own memoirs and anyone who is interested in the memoir-writing process.

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