Anger lingers despite mayor’s Africville apology
‘It was a diabolical plot that destroyed our community,’ says former resident
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.”