Nova Scotia·Opinion

The story of Africville gives Canada a chance to show Black Lives Matter

This column is an opinion by Alfred Burgesson, a member of the Prime Minister's Youth Council, Curator of collectiveaction.ca, and Co-Host of the New Action Podcast.

Another generation takes up the Africville cause, calling for reparations and the return of land

The original church in Africville fronted onto an unpaved road. The church was destroyed in the middle of the night in 1967. (Halifax Regional Municipality Archives)

This column is an opinion by Alfred Burgesson, a member of the Prime Minister's Youth Council, curator of collectiveaction.ca, and co-host of the New Action Podcast. For more information about CBC's opinion section, please see the FAQ.

This year has afforded all of us more time to pay attention to the needs of people in our communities, especially the most marginalized, vulnerable and oppressed.

This past summer I expressed how we can turn the momentum of Black Lives Matter into real change.

Over the past several months, I decided to learn about Africville, so I engaged with former residents and the community's descendants. The so-called "settlement" was home to hundreds of individuals and families, and together they built a thriving, resilient and close‐knit community, until it was expropriated by Halifax city council in the 1960s.

From the early 1800s to 1970, Africville was home to many Black families, a school and a church. However, the community was denied access to clean drinking water, paved roads and sewage treatment.

Africville was also home to the first people who came to help during the 1917 Halifax Explosion, and to heroes of the world wars.

Eddie Carvery speaks to reporters at a Justice for Africville rally in front of City Hall. (Submitted by Alfred Burgesson)

Eddie Carvery has been protesting for 50 years, demanding justice and reparations for the past residents of Africville. Thanks to Eddie and his family, I've learned a great deal about Africville, the people of Africville, and the harm caused by our governments back in the 1960s.

We have formed a special relationship over several months together. I cannot write this piece without giving thanks to a living legend.

A mother's wise advice

My first time visiting Eddie Carvery was spontaneous, and I quickly realized that this man is not as crazy as some members of the public made him out to be. I have enjoyed spending time with him and his family, and hearing their stories. When I visited Eddie on my birthday, I was greeted by the family and was given a birthday card with a gift.

My favourite story about Eddie is that he tried to orchestrate a plan to destroy city hall with a bomb after the community that raised him, Africville, was demolished. This plan never succeeded due to sage advice from his mother, Daisy Gehue Carvery.

Eddie is peaceful, thoughtful, and he is still fighting for justice for Africville.

Justice for Africville supporters at City Hall in Halifax. (Submitted by Alfred Burgesson)

Fifty years later, the Africville protest is gaining more momentum — this time with some support from young people in Halifax and across the country.

Eddie's grandson, Eddie Carvery III, is determined to bring the community together, determined to create a plan, and committed to giving Africville back to the former residents and descendants.

Next generation takes up the cause

Eddie Carvery III has been working on a solution. Right now, the plan is to get as many people in Canada to take action by petitioning the federal, provincial, municipal governments and human rights commission while at the same time engaging the community in a plan to redevelop Africville.

On Saturday Nov. 21 at City Hall, over 100 people showed up to support the cause. Coun. Lindell Smith, member of Parliament Andy Fillmore and Leader of NDP Party of Nova Scotia, Gary Burrill, all made remarks to protesters at the rally.

Over 100 people gathered in front of Halifax City Hall to demand justice for Africville. (Submitted by Alfred Burgesson)

The following call to action can be sent to your local MP, MLA, the mayor of Halifax, the premier of Nova Scotia, the prime minister, the Human Rights Commission of Canada and Human Rights Commission of Nova Scotia:

"We, the citizens, demand reparations now!

  • WHEREAS in the year 2020, the Halifax Regional Municipality, in collaboration with the Province of Nova Scotia, Government of Canada, and the Human Rights Commission, in the interest of restoring justice, launches a reparations process.
  • WHEREAS monetary contributions to ensure social and economic development, quality of life and prosperity, land, education, business and employment will be considered reparations.
  • WHEREAS the government will grant ownership of the land and management of the district of Africville will be returned to the residents and descendants of Africville.
  • WHEREAS the government will return all of the buildings and land formerly occupied by Africville residents, families and descendants of Africville, and redevelopment of Africville shall occur.
  • NOW, THEREFORE, a new community entity led by former residents and the descendants of Africville, Africville Legacy and Development Association, will form a community working group to discuss and define the terms and conditions of said reparations with government bodies."

If you believe this is reasonable and is a decent way forward, join the people demanding reparations for Africville now.

In 2016, the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Canada made a statement. I would highly recommend you read it if you haven't already. Among several other recommendations, the statement by the working group recommended that governments "issue an apology and consider reparations for enslavement and historical injustices."

'We're not giving up'

I'm not convinced that former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly's apology and the joint investment of $5 million from all three levels of government in 2010 qualifies as reparations. The funds were used to build a replica church of the Seaview Baptist Church, now a museum managed by the Africville Heritage Trust. A nice gesture; however, it does not meaningfully address the generational trauma, misfortune and lost opportunities for Africville residents and descendants.

I'm convinced there is a better way forward.

I hope you take 30 seconds of your time to respond to the above call to action, demanding reparations for Africville. 

I will end this piece with this quote:

"There will be a protest until the Africville people have been dealt with fairly. If not me, it will be my children, if not them, their children. It's not going to go away. We're not quitting, we're not giving up." — Eddie Carvery, CBC Radio, Sept. 8, 2020

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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