Re­mem­ber­ing Vi­ola Des­mond

Doc­u­men­tary screen­ing part of African Her­itage Month events

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - BY NANCY KING nk­ing@cb­post.com

Wanda Rob­son is look­ing for­ward to tak­ing part in a New Glas­gow screen­ing of a doc­u­men­tary re­mem­ber­ing her sis­ter Cana­dian civil rights icon Vi­ola Des­mond this week­end.

On Satur­day, as part of African Her­itage Month events, the North Sydney res­i­dent will be in the town where Des­mond was ar­rested in 1946 for the screen­ing of “Long Road to Jus­tice – the Vi­ola Des­mond Story,” a film pro­duced by the prov­ince in 2012.

The event will in­clude a postscreen­ing in­ter­view and ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion with Rob­son.

The film will air the fol­low­ing day on Eastlink tele­vi­sion, along with a 30-minute, “In Con­ver­sa­tion” in­ter­view with Rob­son, where she re­flects on Des­mond and her legacy and the hon­ours that have been posthu­mously be­stowed upon her.

When she orig­i­nally wrote to the mayor of New Glas­gow al­most a decade ago sug­gest­ing there should be some com­mem­o­ra­tion of Des­mond there, Rob­son noted the town took up the chal­lenge.

“The peo­ple of New Glas­gow couldn’t have treated me bet­ter if I was the queen of Eng­land,” Rob­son said in an in­ter­view. “They were so kind, they just went all out, the coun­cil, the peo­ple … and they still keep in touch with me.”

It’s been a busy few months for Rob­son. In De­cem­ber, she was front and cen­tre in Ottawa as it was an­nounced that Des­mond’s im­age will be rep­re­sented on the newly de­signed $10 bill. This will mark the first time that a por­trait of a Cana­dian woman will be fea­tured on a reg­u­larly cir­cu­lat­ing Bank of Canada note.

“Go­ing to Ottawa and hav­ing Vi­ola on the $10 de­nom­i­na­tion, I never ever thought that would hap­pen,” Rob­son said. “When she was one of the five nom­i­nated, I though that was an hon­our in it­self.”

She noted she called her sis­ters in Mon­treal, Emily, age 103, and Eu­ge­nie, age 93, to tell them about the ex­pe­ri­ence, and they were thrilled.

“I can’t find enough ad­jec­tives to de­scribe it,” Rob­son said.

On Nov. 8, 1946, Des­mond was driv­ing through New Glas­gow when her car broke down. To pass the time while it was re­paired, she de­cided to see a movie at the Rose­land The­atre. She pur­chased a ticket for a seat on the main floor. Af­ter she was told it was against the­atre pol­icy to sell main floor seats to black peo­ple, Des­mond re­fused to sit in the bal­cony.

She was re­moved from the the­atre by po­lice and jailed overnight.

Des­mond was ul­ti­mately fined and re­turned to Hal­i­fax, but de­cided to fight the charge — tax eva­sion for be­ing one cent short in the cost of the sales tax on the ticket — in court. The con­vic­tion was up­held.

In the decades since, Des­mond has be­come a sym­bol for the fight against racial seg­re­ga­tion in Nova Sco­tia and Canada. She has been posthu­mously par­doned and has re­ceived a num­ber of hon­ours in­clud­ing a postage stamp.

Rob­son has writ­ten a book about her sis­ter, spo­ken at schools and taken part in cer­e­monies across the coun­try where var­i­ous post­hu­mous hon­ours have been be­stowed upon the civil rights icon and pi­o­neer­ing busi­ness­woman.

As time has gone by, Des­mond said she has de­vel­oped a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of her sis­ter and she has re­al­ized the im­pact she has had.

Rob­son noted that while Des­mond never had chil­dren of her own, she left her es­tate to sup­port the ed­u­ca­tions of her nieces and neph­ews, as ed­u­ca­tion was ex­tremely im­por­tant to her. Rob­son her­self de­cided to pur­sue post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion in her 70s.

“We are so proud to host the screen­ing of ‘Long Road to Jus­tice: The Vi­ola Des­mond Story’ … and ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity to present this doc­u­men­tary to our com­mu­nity dur­ing African Her­itage Month,” New Glas­gow Mayor Nancy Dicks said in a news re­lease.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/RON CA­PLAN

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