British Columbia

Mozart Mimms, who lived through segregation, calls for racial unity

If you’re looking to pick up a little wisdom on racial equality, Mozart Mimms is a good person to listen to.

Mimms, 102, moved to Canada in the 1950s after growing up in Kentucky

Mozart Mimms, 102, watches the news every night at his home in New Westminster, B.C. to stay updated on protests for racial equality that are happening around the globe. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

If you're looking to pick up a little wisdom on racial equality, Mozart Mimms is a good person to listen to.

The grandson of a slave, he was born in Allensville, Kentucky, just before the end of the First World War.

He went to an all-Black school just outside of Allensville, served four years with the U.S. Army and got a degree in geography from Tennessee State University.

"I grew up in segregation," he said. "We had our own schools and our own churches."

Mozart Mimms was born in Allensville Kentucky in 1918. He came to Canada and first worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, eventually retiring from Via Rail as a service manager. (Alex Lamic/CBC)

A career with the railroad brought him to Vancouver in 1952, where the money was a little better and the climate was more to his liking, so he put down roots.

Today, 68 years later, Mimms lives at Royal City Manor Long Term Care in New Westminster, where he spends much of his time watching the news.

Peaceful protests in Vancouver, the United States and across the globe make him hopeful and anxious. 

They remind him of demonstrations he's seen in the past, some of which brought about reform and others that lost momentum and were forgotten before they could accomplish much.

Through them all, racism has remained. He says it's time for that to change.

"I'd like to see the Blacks and whites get together but you've always had this division and I think you'll always have it," he said.

"You need these people to get together."

Mimms is pictured walking down Granville Street in Vancouver in 1952. (Mozart Mimms)

Unity

The death of George Floyd, who was killed last month by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., sparked daily protests in the United States and across the world.

Mimms, who is no fan of the U.S. president, believes Donald Trump is intentionally using divisive language to keep races apart. He fears people may be too angry to unify.

"I don't know what's going to happen now," Mimms said. "I hope it gets better, but I don't know. It seems to be getting worse."

For this movement to bring about the change he'd like to see, Mimms believes all races need to embrace cultures they may not be familiar with, much like he did when he moved to Canada.

"I've seen good times and I've seen bad times," he said. "What can I do now? Just live the best life you can."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

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