Friday, April 16, 2010

Viola Desmond

I was somewhat startled (and a bit ashamed) to read for the first time this morning about someone whose name I should have learned in school (but didn't): Viola Desmond.
Nova Scotia has apologized and granted a pardon to Viola Desmond, a black woman who was convicted for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in 1946.
Desmond, then a 32-year-old beautician, was driving from Halifax to Sydney on Nov. 8, 1946, when her car broke down in New Glasgow. She decided to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre while she waited for repairs.
Desmond sat downstairs, unaware of the theatre's rule that blacks could sit only in the balcony seats. She was asked to leave but refused. Eventually, the manager and a police officer pulled her out.
Desmond spent the night in jail. The next morning, she was convicted of tax evasion. Prosecutors made no mention of race. They told the judge that Desmond didn't pay the full price to sit up front and therefore didn't pay the proper tax — a difference of one cent.
She was fined $20 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Desmond decided to fight the case with the help of the newly created Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She lost the first appeal but won a second attempt on a technicality.
Thanks to Desmond's public court battle, the Nova Scotia government ended up dismantling its segregation laws.
Nova Scotia had segregation laws? I never learned that in school either. I guess I'd better educate myself...


  1. I'm always caught up short by the discovery that segregation once[?] existed outside the fabled South. Wow.

  2. Glenn,
    I've never been naive enough to believe that racism didn't/doesn't exist in Nova Scotia and Canada. I confess, though, that I had no idea that there were actual segregation laws, and I'm a bit pissed off that I was never told about this stuff in school.