Author explores a missing piece of Africville history — its 'happiness and love and laughter'
Africville residents lost more than their homes when the community was demolished, says Amanda Carvery-Taylor
When Amanda Carvery-Taylor was growing up, she often heard two competing narratives about Africville.
At school and on the news, people would describe the former Nova Scotia community in stark terms — a miserable, impoverished place with no running water that was razed to the ground in 1967.
But her own family members who grew up there painted a very different picture.
"I would get my experience, my personal experience, when I sat around with family or I went to reunions, and there was so much happiness and love and laughter. We just had so much fun," Carvery-Taylor, a writer and photographer, told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"And I said, you know, other people need to see that there's a different side to that."
So she published a book about it. A Love Letter to Africville tells the settlement's history through the eyes of the people who actually lived here.
"Everybody I spoke with said they would give up everything they have right now to go back and live there with their community," Carvery-Taylor said.
"You just hear about the church and how the celebrations were and how involved everybody was, and stories about how people who had struggles always had the support that they needed."
What happened to Africville?
Africville was a small settlement outside Halifax, established by in the late 1700s by Black settlers, many of whom were formerly enslaved in Canada and the U.S.
It provided a safe haven not only for Black residents of Nova Scotia, Carvery-Taylor said, but also for other marginalized people, including travellers.
"Basically anybody who was of colour would stay there. That was where they felt most comfortable in the city," she said.
Over the decades, Africville was neglected by all levels of government, especially the City of Halifax.
By the mid-1960s, the community had no running water, no sewage system, no garbage pickup, no streetlights, no public transportation and no paved roads. This, despite that Africville residents paid municipal taxes to Halifax.
Instead, the city used Africville to house its local dump, incinerator, prison, railway tracks and abattoir.
"It was just an area that kind of became a dumping ground to just put all your undesirable things down near our community," Carvery-Taylor said.
In 1967, rather than providing Africville the services it needed, the city razed it to the ground and forced its residents to relocate.
The city officially apologized for the destruction of Africville in 2010. As part of that apology, the city funded the reconstruction of Seaview African United Baptist Church, once the spiritual and social heart of the community.
That church is now a museum, and Africville is a park where residents meet every year for a reunion.
'A real sense of safety'
Carvery-Taylor has attended many of those reunions. She's too young to have lived in Africville, but her father and other family members grew up there.
"I know what it's like when I'm with all of my family and my community, and everyone around me is basically someone I have a connection to in some way. And there's just a real feeling of being able to let your guard down, being able to trust," she said.
"I let my daughter play and I don't worry about where anybody goes or what anybody's doing, because I know that there's a sense of safety. And if there was anything, if my daughter fell down, somebody would go grab her and say, 'Whose kid this?" or 'She bumped her knee; here's a Band-Aid.'"
That sense of safety and security came up again and again when she conducted interviews for her book.
"If you were a single parent and you had to work, you knew that your children would be safe. You could send them over to a family member's house. They'd be within walking distance. You knew that they'd have food," she said.
"Everything was always taken care of down there. And people had a real sense of safety that nobody has experienced elsewhere."
The stories in A Love Letter to Africville are accompanied by Carvery-Taylor's intimate black-and-white portraits of the community's former residents — including her father Frank "Chuck" Carvery.
"My dad is not a talkative person, so this was such a joy to do because I got to force him to talk to me about these things," she said with a chuckle.
"My dad describes, like, these really beautiful memories of being a kid. And, you know, his favourite things were just being outside with his friends, running around, playing games, and the real innocence of being a child."
He told her about the time he and a few other kids tried to make their own bullets for hunting rabbits, she said.
"They had it all figured out, they thought. And as soon as they shot the bullets, they realized that they just kind of went slowly and just flopped down," she said with a laugh.
Stories like that really hammer home was what was lost when Africville was destroyed, she said.
"When we're talking about what this community lost, people say, you know, the buildings and they lost their homes and they lost items or things like that," she said.
"But this is what I see that they lost. They lost that freedom and safety and, you know, being able to run without care and have a bunch of fun."
A Love Letter To Africville is available now from Fernwood Publishing.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Radio's Rewind. Interview with Amanda Carvery-Taylor produced by Sarah Jackson.
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.