The McConnell Library in Sydney will celebrate Black Heritage Month and the first Nova Scotia Heritage Day on Thursday, February 12, with a party of gospel music and short talks about Viola Desmond, the civil rights icon.
Eddie Parris and the Inspirational Singers will perform, and author Wanda Robson will speak about the life of her sister Viola Desmond, known to many as Canada’s Rosa Parks. Wanda will be introduced by Graham Reynolds of the Viola Desmond Chair for Research in Social Justice at CBU, and by Ron Caplan, the publisher of Sister to Courage: Stories from the World of Viola Desmond.
Nova Scotia’s first Heritage Day is dedicated to Viola Desmond. As many people have come to know, Desmond is the woman who refused to give up her seat in the “whites only” section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow. That was November 8, 1946. Desmond was a black businesswoman on her way to Sydney to deliver her line of beauty products, when her car broke down. She had to stay the night in New Glasgow as she waited for car parts, and decided to take in a movie. She happened to sit in what the theatre management had designated as a “whites only” section.
When she was told that black people had to sit in the balcony she refused to give up her seat, and she ended up being carried out of the theatre fighting a policeman and the manager. Jailed for the night, she was tried next morning without a lawyer and found guilty of cheating the Nova Scotia government out of one penny — that’s correct, one cent — the difference in amusement tax between the main floor ticket and the balcony.
Fined $20 and costs, Desmond later appealed the judgment unsuccessfully, losing on a technicality. But one Supreme Court justice went on record to say that the case was never about the amusement tax and always about race.
It’s meaty stuff in Canada’s story of social justice.
Sixty-five years later, Premier Darrell Dexter apologized on behalf of Nova Scotia, and then Lt-Gov. Mayann Francis read out Queen Elizabeth’s Grant of Free Pardon, recognizing that Viola Desmond had committed no crime. The Town of New Glasgow held two days of recognition, unveiling a painting of Viola Desmond that now has a permanent place in Government House in Halifax. There have been many honours, school programs and scholarships established in her name, and on February 16 Nova Scotia’s first Heritage Day has been declared “Viola Desmond Day” as an opportunity to remember her defiance and the ongoing struggle for racial equality.
And on February 12, the staff of the McConnell Library will celebrate it all — Black Heritage Month and Heritage Day and Viola Desmond Day. Under the direction of Eddie Parris, The Inspirational Singers will perform spiritual music. And the audience will have a chance to hear and to meet Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson.
The Party starts at 7pm Thursday, February 12. There is no admission. There will be refreshments. And everyone — everyone — is welcome.