Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Family Histories


Browning Family

Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 1

How well do you know your family’s history? Have you ever wanted to learn more? The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is here to help. The Browning family has a connection to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through J. Lyle Browning, who formerly acted as the President of the Museum’s Board of Directors, but his family’s connection to Southern Ontario goes beyond his dedication to the Museum. Did you know the Browning family settled in Sandwich (Windsor), Ontario almost 150 years ago, and in an article discussing the family, entitled, “Meeting the Browning Family,” they are described as one of Canada’s “most distinguished” Black families? If you’ve ever wondered about the contributions of the Browning family make sure to keep reading.

Ever heard of Harpers Ferry or John Brown? On J. Lyle’s mother’s side of the family were members of the Richardson family, who were involved in the events of Harpers Ferry, which involved John Brown leading a small group, including a member of the Richardson family, in a raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The raid was an attempt to start an armed slave revolt in order to end the institution of slavery. The raid was unsuccessful, but what an honour it must be to have such an important connection to North American history. On J. Lyle Browning’s paternal side, his great grandfather escaped enslavement in the United States and came to Canada, where he met and married a Miss Duval. A 1932 land title from the museum’s collection also tells us that James Clinton Browning, the grandfather of J. Lyle Browning, lived in the Township of Chatham, County of Kent. The son of James Clinton Browning was Joseph Browning, J. Lyle Browning’s father, who married Gladys Richardson, whose family we just discussed at Harpers Ferry. Joseph and his family lived on Assumption Street in Windsor and he was for many years a foreman for the City of Windsor. He left that job to become Windsor’s leading Black barber. Anyone have memories of going to Joseph’s barbershop in Windsor? In “Meet the Browning Family,” Joseph says, “As his children grew up, he was more and more impressed with the necessity of giving each of them a better- than-average education, in a world that knew and recognized distinct barriers of color. That he was successful, with the kind and careful assistance of his wife, is evidenced by the fact that of five Browning children, all hold good positions, and two of them hold responsibilities which no other Negro in Canada has ever attained.” Stayed tuned for more next week.

Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 2

The children spoken of in this 1951 article are Delores, Lorraine, Velma, Ernest, and J. Lyle. Delores, the youngest, graduated with a business degree and was a secretary at Sterling Automotive Products, later working for the Unemployment Insurance Commission. She also married Roland Henderson. Lorraine, at the time of the article (1951), was one of only a few Black dental laboratory technicians in Canada, which was quite an accomplishment. She previously worked for Dr. Roy Perry, a Windsor dentist, but quickly realized her talents as a laboratory technician. Velma attended Patterson Collegiate and the O’Neill Business College, and was the assistant manager of Zinke’s Shoe Store on Griswold Street in Detroit. Does that store sound familiar to any of our readers? She also married a war hero, Thomas Vincent, who was killed in action during WWII. Velma was also an active club woman, who was the president of the Amstead Club and the president of the Can-American Club. She was pretty active in the community.

Ernest, the oldest of the Browning children, was a graduate of the Windsor Vocational School and was employed with the City of Windsor. In a Windsor Star article, “Ernie recalls the good times,” it states that Ernie’s “45-year tenure with the city is thought the longest on record.” Forty-five years. Wow! He started his career with the City of Windsor in February 1935, collecting garbage with a horse-drawn wagon. The article also says that “Before he retired last March, he had done ‘just about every … job imaginable’ with the public works department … He moved lawns, drove trucks, swept streets and retired a ‘building maintenance’ worker – a jack-of-all-trades.” He also headed up a company that specialized in precision grinding and was the only African Canadian doing this work in Canada in the 1950s. Ernest’s company held contracts with Windsor hospitals and was responsible for keeping surgical instruments razor sharp. There’s still more to come next week in part 3 of the Browning Family History.

Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 3

Within the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, the majority of documents concerning the Browning family discuss J. Lyle Browning. A member of the B.M.E. Church, he married Geraldine Marshall of Detroit, Michigan in 1945 and they had two sons: Joseph and Bruce. J. Lyle graduated from Patterson Collegiate Institute in 1941 and stood out in debating, public speaking, dramatics, as an assistant director, and in athletics, as an All City basketball player and WSSA & OFSSA Champion. He was also the first Black student to attend Assumption College, in Liberal Arts, from 1941-1943 and was also their first African-Canadian basketball player. He was a man of many firsts.

J. Lyle was a very active member of numerous organizations throughout Ontario. In 1943, Mr. Browning founded the first Young Liberal Club with Charles Clarke, in conjunction with the Honourable Paul Martin Sr. This club was called The Laurier-King Club of Windsor and he was this organization’s first president. In 1945, he was the secretary of the Ontario Liberal Association in Toronto and the secretary of the Central Citizen’s Association, which was Windsor’s first Black Community Organization and lobbied for employment for African-Canadian citizens in Government. Do you remember the Central Citizen’s Association? Because of this organization’s work, Black citizens gained employment with City Hall and the Windsor Police. There’s still more to come. Stay tuned for part 4 next week.

Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 4

In 1948, J. Lyle acted as the secretary of the Young Liberal Federation of Canada, which introduced Labour Resolutions adopted at the National Liberal Association Conference in Ottawa that same year. The Central Citizen’s Association lasted until 1949 which was the same year that J. Lyle Browning acted as vice-president. He was also the president of the Armstead Athletic Club, the vice-president of the Windsor Downtown Lions Club, a member of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism, which was an advisory council for the federal government on multicultural matters. The result of this organization was the establishment of the Ministry of Multi-Culturalism and a permanent office of Minister.

From 1977-1980, Mr. Browning was also chairman of a fund-raising campaign to raise $350,000 to establish a Black history museum in Amherstburg, which is now the Amherstburg Freedom Museum, thanks to the efforts of him and countless others. He was also a member of the Underground Railroad Monument Committee of Windsor and the Essex County Black Historical Research Society. Among his other accomplishments J. Lyle Browning was selected as the Liberal candidate for Windsor-Sandwich in the provincial election in 1975. Although unsuccessful, he built a platform for shorter work weeks and higher minimum wages, in addition to dealing with the shortage of housing experienced in the area. What an impressive resume! One week left of the Browning Family history. See you next week!

Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 5

Just as J. Lyle Browning was involved in several organizations, he was also employed in several different occupations. From 1943- 1949, he worked as a Production Manager at S.K.D. Tool Company in Windsor, which relocated to Amherstburg as S.K.D. Manufacturing Company Ltd. in 1946. In 1950, he was the factory manager at Williams Norman Company of Canada Ltd. and the following year, the vice-present of the Coronet Television Company, which was one of Canada’s first manufacturers of television sets. A few years later, in 1953, he was the president of the Car Steel Corporation of Canada, located in LaSalle and by 1956 it had 150 employees, one of Canada’s largest automotive stamping plants. Very impressive! He also formed Monitor Industries and Techno Tool & Die Company in 1963, located in Windsor, for the production of wiring outlet boxes and devices for the construction of home and commercial buildings. Because of poor health, J. Lyle had to close these companies, but in 1972, he formed J.L. Browning & Co. Ltd., but also Browning Engineering & Manufacturing Co. The latter company was started with his eldest son Joseph Jr. and manufactured resistance welding machines and components for the automotive industry. By 1982, Browning Engineering became one of the three principal suppliers to automotive manufacturers in Canada of resistance welding products.

The Browning family has lived in Essex County for almost 150 years and each of their contributions, whether loyally serving the City of Windsor for 45 years or helping to fund a Black history museum, has impacted the community for the better. Thanks for joining us for the Browning Family history. Make sure to come back next week to learn more about a new family that will be highlighted in the family history series.