Anger lingers de­spite mayor’s Africville apol­ogy

‘It was a diabolical plot that de­stroyed our com­mu­nity,’ says for­mer res­i­dent

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL MACDON­ALD

HAL­I­FAX — More than 40 years af­ter the last home in Africville was bull­dozed, the City of Hal­i­fax said sorry Wed­nes­day for de­stroy­ing a north end com­mu­nity that stands as a sym­bol of the strained re­la­tions be­tween Nova Sco­tia’s blacks and whites.

As Mayor Peter Kelly de­liv­ered a for­mal apol­ogy and promised $3 mil­lion to build a replica church and in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre, some blacks in the crowd yelled, “Give it back!” “Com­pen­sa­tion!” and “ You for­got the peo­ple!”

A con­trite Kelly pressed on, un­moved by the ver­bal barbs.

“ You lost your homes, your church, all the places in which you gath­ered with your fam­ily and friends to share and mark the mile­stones of your lives,” he said. “For all of that, we apol­o­gize.”

Some in the crowd loudly com­plained there wasn’t enough con­sul­ta­tion be­fore the deal was struck ear­lier this week. Oth­ers said the set­tle­ment was lit­tle more than a to­ken ges­ture be­cause none of the fam­i­lies who lost their homes will be com­pen­sated for their loss.

Set­tled by for­mer slaves in the 1840s, Africville would later be­come a source of shame for the port city.

The im­pov­er­ished com­mu­nity had no run­ning wa­ter, no sew­ers, no fire depart­ment and lit­tle ac­cess to elec­tric­ity or po­lice pro­tec­tion.

But its res­i­dents were close and proud of a dis­tinct neigh­bour­hood that brimmed with its own mu­sic and cul­ture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the city re­lo­cated its dump to land near Africville, ex­pro­pri­ated all of the com­mu­nity’s prop­er­ties and razed what it said were “ blighted houses and di­lap­i­dated struc­tures” in the name of ur­ban re­newal.

On Jan. 2, 1970, the last res­i­dent of Africville, Aaron (Pa) Carvery, moved out.

In all, about 400 peo­ple from 80 fam­i­lies were re­lo­cated.

To­day, lit­tle re­mains of Africville, ex­cept a small park des- ig­nated a na­tional his­toric site in 2006.

“ Words can­not undo what has been done,” Kelly told the crowd at the YMCA in the city’s north end.

“But we are pro­foundly sorry and apol­o­gize to each and ev­ery one of you ... The reper­cus­sions of what hap­pened to Africville linger to this day.”

Most of the 250 peo­ple who gath­ered to hear the mayor re­sponded with a warm round of ap­plause.

Rev. Rhonda Brit­ton of Corn­wal­lis Street Bap­tist Church said it was im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that many peo­ple were not sat­is­fied with what they heard Wed­nes­day.

Still, a group op­posed to the set­tle­ment is press­ing ahead with le­gal action. Some for­mer res­i­dents and their de­scen­dants say the process that led city coun­cil to ap­prove a set­tle­ment with the Africville Ge­neal­ogy So­ci­ety was il­le­gal be­cause it failed to seek enough in­put from those af­fected.

Other crit­ics said the deal wasn’t ac­cepted by a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who at­tended a closed meet­ing Satur­day led by the ge­neal­ogy so­ci­ety.

But so­ci­ety pres­i­dent Irvine Carvery has said that 80 per cent of the 150 peo­ple in at­ten­dance raised their hands when asked for their ap­proval.

Carvery’s brother, Ed­die, has been liv­ing in a tent on for­mer Africville land for years.

On Wed­nes­day, he said the set­tle­ment rep­re­sented a “ baby step” in the right di­rec­tion. But he said for­mer res­i­dents and their rel­a­tives de­served in­di­vid­ual com­pen­sa­tion and a pub­lic in­quiry.

Af­ter the cer­e­mony, for­mer Africville res­i­dent Denise Allen said peo­ple who have ac­cepted the deal have been left dam­aged by 400 years of racism.

“ That wasn’t a real apol­ogy, where you ac­knowl­edge the wrongs that you com­mit­ted against a group ... He just said, ‘Sorry for your loss’ — like we died of nat­u­ral causes ... It was a diabolical plot that de­stroyed our com­mu­nity. It was de­stroyed by racism.”

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