African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia

By Amy Morris
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Did you know that Nova Scotia has over 50 historic African Nova Scotian communities, dating back over 400 years?

The 2018 theme for African Heritage Month is “Educate, Unite, Celebrate Community”. This theme honours past and present legacies of African Nova Scotians and their long legacy of uniting a passion that has provided a base to educate and celebrate an important part of Nova Scotia’s Culture and Heritage. Our Anti-Racism and Human Rights committee is working hard to help educate our members and communities and invite you to get out to events and important activities during African heritage month and to visit the many Black historical sites in our province during your travels throughout the year.

African Heritage Month is an ideal time to focus on how many African Nova Scotians made a difference in their communities and helped shape our society.

For more information on African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia Click here

Carrie Best was born on March 4, 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia to James and Georgina Ashe Prevoe. In 1925, she married Albert T. Best and had a son, J. Calbert Best. During the 1940s, Mrs. Best and her son Cal were arrested for sitting downstairs in the whites-only seats at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow.

Consequently, the pair was charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. In 1946, Mrs. Best founded The Clarion, the first Black-owned and published Nova Scotia newspaper. In 1952, her radio show called “The Quiet Corner”, went on the air. It aired for 12 years and was broadcast on four radio stations throughout the Maritime Provinces. In 1968, she was hired as a columnist for the Pictou Advocate, a newspaper based in Pictou, Nova Scotia. The column ran until 1975 under the heading of “Human Rights.” Carrie Best died on July 2001 in New Glasgow.

Viola Davis Desmond (1914–1965) was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She ran her beauty parlour and beauty college in Halifax. On November 8, 1946, while waiting for her car to be repaired, she decided to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. She refused to sit in the balcony, which was designated exclusively for Blacks.

Instead, she sat on the ground floor, which was for Whites only. She was forcibly removed and arrested. Viola was found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and paid a $26 fine. The trial mainly focused on the issue of tax evasion and not on the discriminatory practices of the theatre. Unhappy with the verdict, the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, with Viola’s help, took the case to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The conviction was upheld. Eventually, Viola Desmond settled in New York where she died.

More recently, on April 15, 2010, the province of Nova Scotia granted an official apology and a free pardon to Viola. Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis, the first black person to serve as the Queen’s representative in the province of Nova Scotia, presided over a ceremony in Halifax and exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a free pardon to her. Viola’s 83-year-old sister, Wanda Robson, was there to accept the apology. Premier Darrell Dexter also apologized to Viola’s family and all black Nova Scotians for the racism she was subjected to in an incident he called unjust.

William Hall, a Victoria Cross recipient, was born in 1827 in Horton, Nova Scotia, the youngest of seven children. His parents, Jacob and Lucy Hall, were former enslaved Americans who had come to Nova Scotia as a result of the War of 1812. Hall grew up on the family farm beside the Avon River, and it is believed that he received some training in navigation, a subject that was being taught to young black males in Halifax at the time. William Hall launched his seafaring career at the age of seventeen, first joining the crew of an American trading vessel in 1844 as a merchant seaman.

In 1852, he enlisted in the Royal Navy in Liverpool as an Able Seaman. Before long, Hall was decorated with British and Turkish medals for his service in the Crimean War. In 1857, while serving on the HMS Shannon, Hall volunteered with a relief force sent to Lucknow, India, where a British garrison was besieged. Two survived the attack, Seaman Hall and Lieutenant Thomas Young, but only Hall was left standing, and he continued to fight until the relief of the garrison was assured. For this outstanding display of bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. William Hall was presented with his Victoria Cross on October 28, 1859, on board the HMS Donegal while the ship sat in Queenstown Harbour, Ireland. With this award, he became the first black person, the first Nova Scotian and the first Canadian sailor to receive this outstanding honour. Hall died on his farm in Avonport on August 27, 1904, and is buried in Hantsport, Nova Scotia, where his grave is marked by a monument at the Baptist church. His Victoria Cross is preserved at the Nova Scotia Museum.

Sam Langford, born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia is considered one of the finest heavyweight boxers of all time. After moving to the United States at the age of 14 and fighting out of Massachusetts, he became known as the Boston Terror. He was one of many top black boxers denied a chance to fight for a championship largely because of racial discrimination. This led to his being called the unofficial World Champion. In 1906, he fought American Jack Johnson, who shortly after that became the first black person to hold the title of World Heavyweight Champion. In the years between 1902 and 1923, Langford is believed to have had approximately 642 fights. Small in stature, he consistently went up against larger men. An injury in 1917 caused him to lose the sight in his right eye and led his manager to suggest he give up boxing. A proud man, Langford refused and continued to fight until he finally succumbed to blindness seven years later.

The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C. was born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia in 1938. A graduate of Acadia University and Dalhousie University Law School, he was summoned to the Senate of Canada on September 7, 1990. Mr. Oliver has been active in the Conservative Party for more than 50 years. He has had a distinguished legal career as a civil litigator and a legal educator, having taught at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, St. Mary’s University and Dalhousie University Law School. He is a member of the Canadian Bar Association and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at her father’s Baptist Church in Halifax. Before she began singing professionally, she supported her musical career by teaching in rural black schools in Halifax County and eventually made her professional debut in Toronto. Soon afterwards, she performed in New York City to rave reviews. Portia White went on to international success, performing more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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