Friday, November 28, 2014


Mauritania is a country on the African continent which gained its independence from France on November 28, 1960. The French colonized Mauritania in 1850 when Louis Faidherbe the leader of the French military presence in Senegal decided to expand France's occupation of land in Africa. France had long coveted territory on the African continent and at one point colonized/occupied territory in Central, East, North and West Africa. The French colonization/occupation of the African continent began when the French invaded Algeria (North Africa) in 1830. According to White American Professor John Douglas Ruedy writing in his 1992 published book "Modern Algeria: the origins and development of a nation" about the aftermath of the French conquest of Algeria: "A French commission in 1833 wrote that "we have sent to their deaths on simple suspicion and without trial people whose guilt was always doubtful ... we massacred people carrying safe conducts ... we have outdone in barbarity the barbarians." The French and other European tribes seized the opportunity to continue exploiting Africa and Africans after slavery by holding a 3 month long meeting to formalize the thievery of African land. The White men had been stumbling over each other in their covetous rush to claim African land which sometimes led to physical confrontations with each other so they decided to meet and agree on who should control what part of Africa. That first "Scramble for Africa" where several White men representing 14 countries spent 3 months (November 15, 1884- February 26, 1885) carving up the African continent and sharing it amongst members of European tribes which led to years of occupation by Europeans of every part of Africa except Ethiopia. In his 2010 published book "From African Foreign Policy and Diplomacy from Antiquity to the 21st Century" African Professor Daniel Don Nanjira a member of the Luhya from Kenya wrote: "Europe's interest in Africa was prompted by the dictates of the new imperialism. The Berlin Conference on the Partition of Africa (November 15, 1884-February 26, 1885) mainly was held to create international guidelines for territorial acquisitions, control, exploration, and administration. It was not for the good of the colonized Africans, but was intended to protect the interests of the home countries in Europe."
In that first "Scramble for Africa" at the "Berlin Conference" White men from 14 countries spent 3 months drawing random borders with no consideration for the African people they would inconvenience or traumatize. These White men greedily divided the African continent among themselves because they were seeking wealth for their countries. With the strength of their armies and the recently invented machine gun White men and women occupied the best parts (most fertile and mineral rich land) in every African territory they invaded. In many cases they first sent in their missionaries like so many "Trojan horses" to "Christianize" the Africans in a devious "divide and conquer" strategy. When the European armies descended on these newly created "countries" there were Africans who had already succumbed, been brainwashed or coerced into accepting the new religion and were used to spread dissension among their people. Many of these Africans had been convinced of the "superiority" of the Europeans and were very susceptible to accepting without question the "rights" of the conquering hordes. Any Africans who resisted the European occupation/thievery of their land were barbarously and cruelly dispatched by the "superior" weapons used by the European occupying armies. In every case the Europeans claimed the best land, displacing the Africans and forcing them to become a cheap source of labour whose work was exploited to enrich the Europeans. This quote from the 1997 published book "Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts" by H.J. de Blij and Peter O. Muller sums up the aftermath of the Berlin Conference: "The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa in 1950, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily." It is no coincidence that this outright greedy grab for African land was formalised by White men after the invention of “machine guns” the Gatling gun in 1861 and the Maxim gun in 1883. Armed with the Maxim which could fire 600 rounds per minute the African resisters of colonization hardly stood a chance.
Mauritania was not only colonized by the French but had also been occupied and colonized by Arabs before the advent of the Europeans. The indigenous Africans were first enslaved by the Arabs who claimed the land in modern day Mauritania and even after the French colonized the country the practice of enslaving Africans continued. The French although they had abolished slavery in their Caribbean colonies since 1848 obviously turned a blind eye to the continued Arab enslavement of Africans in Mauritania during the colonial period. The last two countries to abolish slavery in the west were Cuba (1886) and Brazil (1888.) Although Mauritania gained its independence from France on November 28, 1960 the institution of slavery (enslavement of Africans) was not legally abolished until 1981. However it was not a crime to enslave Africans until a new law criminalising the practice of enslaving Africans was adopted by the Mauritanian Parliament in August 2007.
In spite of the law criminalising the practice of enslaving Africans in Mauritania the practice continues in 2014. In his 2012 published book “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy” White American author Kevin Bales writes: “As in the nineteenth-century American South, in Mauritania race matters intensely. Racism is the motor that drives Mauritanian society. White Moors generally disdain their black slaves and regard them as inferior beings. The ruling White Moors’ deep cultural and economic vested interest in slavery makes them as ready to fight for this privilege as the southern states of the United States fought for theirs.”
In Mauritania an African country where Africans are in the majority, a minority group (30%) of non-Indigenous people who call themselves “White Moors” hold (40%) of people who are identified as “Black Moors” in slavery. This “Moor” designation seems to come from the fact that both groups are members of the same religion, Islam. The “Black Moors” have traditionally “belonged” to the “White Moors” so this designation continues into the 21st century and change is fiercely resisted by the “White Moors.” The remaining 30% of the population are Africans (many are Christians) who are not members of the dominant religion of Mauritania and have never been enslaved. One would think it would be so easy for a “Black Moor” to escape their enslavement and pretend to be a free African but that is not the case. The majority of “Black Moors” have been conditioned to believe that it is their natural state to be “slaves” to the “White Moors” who physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abuse them and their children. These enslaved people work from dawn to dusk in the homes and businesses of their enslavers and are never paid. In some cases their children are given away as gifts to other enslaver families very reminiscent of the experiences of Africans who were enslaved by White people in this part of the world (the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America) up to the 1880s.
There are a few brave souls who put their lives on the line in an effort to end the enslavement of those unfortunate Africans who are enslaved in Mauritania. Mr. Biram Dah Abeid (a descendant of the so-called “Black Moors”) is the president of the IRA (Initiative pour la Resurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste) and representative to the “Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization” which is an international organization that facilitates the voices of unrepresented and marginalized nations and peoples worldwide. Dah Abeid has been beaten, imprisoned and was sentenced to death by the Mauritanian government because of his activism. As a peaceful advocate for the formal abolition of slavery in Mauritania Dah Abeid has been likened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the biggest threats to the Mauritanian authorities is Dah Abeid’s efforts to unite the “Black Moors” and other African communities in Mauritania ( His non-violent activities, challenging the Mauritanian authorities to enforce the anti-slavery legislation in the country have been met with violence. It is ironic that a group of people “White Moors” who invaded and occupied African land advocated for their independence from the colonizing French yet continue to enslave the majority of people who are indigenous to Mauritania and Africa. This is very similar to the minority White population of South Africa who kept Africans in abject poverty and refused them basic human rights for decades. On November 28th when Mauritanians are celebrating 54 years of independence and freedom from French colonization unfortunately not every Mauritanian will be celebrating freedom.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Angola, Congo, Benguela Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina Quiloa, Rebolo Here where the men are There’s a big auction They say that in the auction, There’s a princess for sale Who came, together with her subjects Chained on an oxcart To one side, sugarcane To the other side, the coffee plantation In the middle, seated gentlemen Watching the cotton crop, so white Being picked by black hands When Zumbi arrives What will happen Zumbi is a warlord A lord of demands When Zumbi arrives, Zumbi Is the one who gives orders
Excerpt from "Zumbi" composed and sung by African Brazilian singer Jorge Ben released in 1974
“Black November” is celebrated in the city of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia which has the largest number of African Brazilians. Black Awareness Day ("Dia da Consciência Negra") has been celebrated in Brazil every year on November 20, since 1960. On November 20 the enslavement of Africans and other injustices since the abolition of slavery are discussed and the contributions of African Brazilians are recognized and celebrated. November 20 was chosen as Dia da Consciência Negra/Black Awareness Day to remember the transition of Zumbi a famous Brazilian Maroon leader. Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695) the last leader of the famous Palmares Quilombo was beheaded on November 20, 1695 by the Portuguese and his head publicly displayed both as a warning to enslaved Africans and proof that Zubmbi was not immortal. In 2011 Dilma Rousseff the President of Brazil signed into law a bill that makes November 20 a Brazilian National Holiday although many Brazilian states had previously recognized November 20 with a public holiday.
Zumbi who posthumously has risen to the status of National Hero to many Brazilians and even has a Brazilian airport (Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport) named in his honour and a postage stamp (2008) commemorating his memory was once the bane of the Portuguese colonizers/enslavers in Brazil. Zumbi was born a free African in the community of Palmares where Africans had established a free Maroon community (quilombo) in 1594. Palmares was the most successful community of quilombos established by Africans who fled enslavement in Brazil and survived and thrived for 100 years. Combined forces of Dutch and Portuguese attacked the Palmares community as the presence of Africans living free in a country where White people enslaved millions was a beacon of hope to enslaved Africans. During one of these attacks 6 year old Zumbi was kidnapped by a group of Portuguese who sold him to a Catholic priest. When he was 15 years old Zumbi escaped and returned to Palmares where by the time he was in his early 20s he was a respected military strategist and a leader in the community. In 1678, the Portuguese governor negotiated a deal with the leader of Palmares. The deal was a cessation of hostilities between the White inhabitants and the people of Palmares if they would agree to move from the location they had settled since 1594 and that they would capture and return any enslaved Africans who fled to their community seeking freedom. The leader of Palmares agreed but Zumbi wisely refused to agree to those terms. The Portuguese proved to be deceitful and enslaved the Africans who believed their promises and left the safety of Palmares. Mary Karasch a White American historian wrote in her article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” published 2013 in "In The Human Tradition in Colonial Latin America" edited by Kenneth J. Andrien: “The Portuguese were not to be trusted, and to live in peace with them would only lead to reenslavement. To preserve their freedom they had to resist and fight for their people and their own way of life.”
With Zumbi’s refusal to leave Palmares (where Africans had lived as free people for more than 80 years) and his supporters’ determination to defend their territory and their freedom the Portuguese renewed their attacks on Palmares. Zumbi as the new leader of Palmares led the fight against the Portuguese. In her 2013 published article “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch also wrote “What is clear from the documentation is that a newly unified and revived Palmares under the leadership of Zumbi took the offensive. One wonders if the particularly raided plantations where their former comrades had been reenslaved. For a period of thirteen years (1680-1693) Luso-Brazilian expeditions were ineffectual in stopping Palmarino attacks.”
On January 6, 1694 Palmares suffered a surprise attack because of a careless sentry who failed to warn Zumbi of an approaching army of Portuguese. Although Zumbi and his followers from Palmares fought valiantly, they were surrounded and outnumbered. The Portuguese destroyed the Palmares Quilombo, captured 510 Africans and sold them in Bahia.
Zumbi and a few men escaped and continued the fight. Zumbi was eventually betrayed by one of his trusted men who bargained Zumbi’s life for his own with the Portuguese. Zumbi was killed in the ensuing fight on November 20, 1695 and his body was delivered to the officials of the city council of Porto Calvo. In her “Zumbi of Palmares: Challenging the Portuguese Colonial Order” Mary Karasch writes: “An examination revealed fifteen gunshot wounds and innumerable blows from other weapons; after his death he had been castrated and mutilated. The last degradation by his enemies occurred in a public ceremony in Porto Calvo, in which his head was cut off and taken to Recife, where the governor had it displayed on a pole in a public place. His objective was to destroy the belief that Zumbi was immortal.”
Although Palmares was one of several quilombos established by Africans in Brazil, the Quilombo of Palmares was the largest with a population of 30,000 and lasted longer than any other (100 years) from 1594 to 1694. Some of Zumbi’s followers who escaped the carnage visited upon them by the Portuguese attack on Palmares escaped to live in other quilombos and enslaved Africans also continued to flee until slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888. Some of the quilombos were so well hidden that they were never discovered by the Portuguese and the inhabitants lived in freedom and seclusion. In one case the inhabitants of a quilombo (Remanso, Bahia) were unaware until they were discovered in the 1960s that slavery had been abolished for more than 80 years! Since 1988, the quilombos have received protective status under Brazil’s constitution in an attempt to maintain the distinctive culture, history and language developed by these communities.
During the November 20 recognition of Zumbi’s contribution to Brazilian culture and history many events take place at Zumbia National Park which has a monument created in his honour. In spite of the special day to honour Zumbi and the recognition of his place in Brazil’s history, African Brazilians continue to experience oppression in a White supremacist culture.
In his 1989 published book “Brazil, Mixture Or Massacre?: Essays in the Genocide of a Black People” African Brazilian scholar and historian Abdias do Nascimento wrote: “On the whole in this pretentious concept of ‘racial democracy,’ there lies deliberately buried the true face of Brazilian society: only one of the racial elements has any rights or power – whites. They control the means of dissemination of information, educational curriculum and institutions, conceptual definitions, aesthetic norms and all other forms of social/cultural values.” Nascimento who transitioned on May 23, 2011 was a Pan-Africanist who played a significant role in raising awareness among African Brazilians and also wrote "Racial Democracy in Brazil, Myth or Reality?: A Dossier of Brazilian Racism" (1977), "Race and ethnicity in Latin America – African culture in Brazilian art" (1994), "Orixás: os deuses vivos da Africa" (Orishas: the living gods of Africa in Brazil) (1995) and "Africans in Brazil: a Pan-African perspective" (1997.) Recognition of Zumbi would not be complete without recognition of Nascimento as the African Brazilian activist scholar who has been described as a “militant Pan-Africanist” and spent his life raising awareness of the struggle of African Brazilians to navigate a White supremacist culture/system.

Friday, November 14, 2014


People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that's the time to do something about it, not when it's around your neck. The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery.
Quotes from Chinua Achebe Nigerian (Igbo) author of the classic novel "Things Fall Apart" published 1958
Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. He was the fifth of 6 children born to Janet Anaenechi Iloegbunam and Isaiah Okafo Achebe. The name "Chinualumogu" means "God will fight on my behalf" and since Achebe was born during the British colonization of Nigeria his parents probably thought their child would need the intervention of the Almighty to survive the imposition of a foreign power in their land. Achebe who transitioned on March 21, 2013 was an acclaimed novelist who published several books about the negative effects of European colonization, domination and exploitation of Africans.
In his first book "Things Fall Apart" published in 1958 Achebe introduced Okonkwo the Igbo leader whose life and the lives of his people are devastated by the arrival of the Europeans and the destruction of the traditional way of life. In chapter 7 of "Things Fall Apart" in this allegory of the arrival of the colonizers from Britain, Achebe writes: "And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them." At the end of "Things Fall Apart" as "things are falling apart" for the Igbo leaders facing the domination of the White colonizers, 2 of the central characters (Obierika and Okonkwo) have this conversation: "“Does the white man understand our custom about land?” “How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”"
Achebe's depictions of the social and psychological damage that accompanied the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society are probably the reason he was never awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. When asked by Onuora Udenwa of "Quality Weekly" how he felt about never winning a Nobel Prize, he reportedly replied: “My position is that the Nobel Prize is important. But it is a European prize. It’s not an African prize. It’s not a Nigerian prize. Those who give it, Europeans who give it are not responsible to us. They have their reasons for setting it up. They have their rules for determining who should get it. Literature is not a heavyweight championship.”
Achebe was uncompromising in his stance on challenging conventional Western perceptions of Africans and provided alternatives to the negative stereotypical images of Africa constructed by European authors. On February 18, 1975 while he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Achebe presented a Chancellor’s Lecture at Amherst entitled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” where he deconstructed the racism in Conrad’s novel and described Conrad as “a thoroughgoing racist” ( That lecture has been described as “one of the most important and influential treatises in post-colonial literary discourse.” In "Things Fall Apart" Achebe describes in vivid language through various characters the damaging and ruinous effects of European imposition on African culture, civilization and society which continued in the 1960 sequel "No Longer at Ease." In his 1964 published book "Arrow of God" Achebe also wrote about traditional Igbo culture clashing with European Christian missionaries and colonial government policies as the British Empire prevailed in Africa. "A Man of the People" published in 1966 and "Anthills of the Savannah" published in 1987 are also powerful stories told by an African about Africans and African culture. In one of his essays published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975, Achebe explained in "The Novelist As Teacher": “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” Achebe also wrote in an essay entitled "The Role of the Writer in a New Nation" which was published in "Morning Yet on Creation Day" in 1975: "The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing them in human terms what happened to them, what they lost. There is a saying in Ibo that a man who can't tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. The writer can tell the people where the rain began to beat them"
With the publication of “Things Fall Apart” in 1958, Achebe revolutionized the telling of African stories and set the standard for successive generations of African authors/writers, including Buchi Emecheta and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Achebe was the founding editor of the "Heinemann African Writers Series" (established in 1962) which provided a forum for many African writers who came of age after their countries’ independence from European colonizers. His collection of poems "Beware Soul Brother" was published in 1972 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
Achebe born on November 16, 1930 was born during a time when Africans were agitating for their independence from European colonization. Nigeria had been occupied by Britain since the arrival of the “Royal Niger Company” which was founded by a group of White men in 1879 as the “United African Company” renamed the “National African Company” in 1881 and then the “Royal Niger Company” in 1886. Whatever name the group gave themselves their purpose was always to exploit the Africans and the resources. On January 1, 1900, the “Royal Niger Company” transferred the territories it occupied to the British Government and was paid £865,000. No Africans were consulted during the transaction. In the 1920s several Nigerians joined other Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora began organizing in a Pan-African movement to liberate Africans from European domination and the attendant racism to which Africans were subjected in White supremacist cultures. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the “Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League” (UNIA-ACL) in 1914 in Jamaica and expanded the organization after immigrating to the USA in 1916. The influence of Garveyism with his (Garvey’s) philosophy of “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” galvanized the Pan-African movement and influenced generations of African and Caribbean leaders. In 1923 Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay established the Nigerian National Democratic Party (Nigeria’s first political party) which successfully contested three Lagos seats in the Legislative Council. Macaulay came to be regarded as the “father of modern Nigerian nationalism" in spite of the British colonialist efforts to suppress the movement. Macaulay was jailed twice by the British as he agitated for African self-rule in Nigeria. Macaulay led protests in Lagos over water rates, land issues and exposed British corruption of their “mishandling” of railway finances. In 1918 Macaulay successfully handled the cases of chiefs whose land had been taken by the British in front of the Privy Council in London. As a result of his campaigning, the colonial government was forced to pay compensation to the chiefs. On June 23, 1923 he established Nigeria’s first political party the “Nigerian National Democratic Party.” Macaulay like many other African leaders who campaigned for independence from European domination was a Pan-Africanist.
In a letter to Garvey in June 1919 ( expressed his support of Garvey’s initiative to establish a shipping company “The Black Star Line.” Macaulay ended his letter to Garvey with these words: "With the most heartfelt prayer for the success of "The Black Star Line," and in the fervent hope that the undertaking will be conducted upon lines based on strict moral rectitude, fair and healthy competition qualified by the most scrupulous and resolute Self-determination, I remain Your Fellowman of the Negro Race, H. Macaulay"
Although he was not a politician Achebe was as much an activist as the people who agitated for African freedom from colonization. He used his talent as a writer to educate and agitate and his work has been recognized by universities in Britain, Canada, Nigeria and the United States with honorary degrees.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


“The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples’ section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965. On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon. A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error. A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances. This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.”
Excerpt from “Late Viola Desmond Granted Apology, Free Pardon” a press release from the office of the Premier of Nova Scotia on April 15, 2010
Most Canadians know the names of African American Civil Rights activists like Angela Davis, Mohamed Ali, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Not too many know the name Viola Desmond. Viola Davis Desmond was an African Canadian Civil Rights activist. On November 8, 1946 Davis a 32-year-old African Canadian businesswoman was arrested at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia for refusing to move from the “white section.” While White Canadians pride themselves on being different from their American counterparts and proudly proclaim Canada’s “multiculturalism” the treatment of African Canadians and other racialized people is very similar to those who live in the USA. The White supremacist culture of the USA is well documented and displayed but the White supremacist culture of Canada is well hidden. Canadian students can pass through the education system from elementary school through post-secondary without learning about the enslavement of Africans, the internment of Japanese Canadian families, the exclusionary Chinese head tax or the capture and abuse of First Nations children in residential schools. I was extremely surprised while attending a class at a post-secondary institution where the lecturer during a discussion of “Components of Racial Discrimination in Immigration” had no knowledge of the incident involving the racist treatment of the passengers of the Komagata Maru in August 1914. To survive at post-secondary institutions sometimes racialized students have to “bite their tongues” or risk victimization and unnecessary extra stress.
On November 8, 1946, Desmond was traveling on business from her Halifax, Nova Scotia home when she experienced car trouble in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. After taking her car to a garage and having to wait for her car to be repaired she decided to pass the time at the Roseland Theatre. She bought a ticket for the main floor of the theatre as she was unaware of the theatre’s policy that the main floor was a “Whites only” seating area. Desmond did not know that African Canadians were relegated to the balcony at the Roseland Theatre because unlike the blatant White supremacist Jim Crow laws of the U.S.A there were no “Whites” and “Coloured” signs. To this day many White Canadians practice a subtle/polite kind of racism where they can pretend/proclaim that their target was mistaken, that their actions were “taken out of context” or misunderstood. It is not surprising that Toronto’s recently elected Mayor declared that White skin privilege does not exist. It will be interesting to witness how he deals with the racial profiling to which African Canadians and other racialized Torontonians are daily subjected within our fair city.
On November 8, 1946 when Desmond was ordered to vacate her seat and move to the balcony she refused. She was after all a Canadian whose ancestors had lived here for generations why should she be treated differently because of her race? She was a successful business owner a respectable hardworking woman who had paid her hard earned money for a seat on the main floor and she was not going to move. Although she explained that she could not see from the balcony and that she had paid to sit on the main floor the manager insisted that she move. Following that stand off the manager left the theatre and returned with police force. The slim, 4’11” Desmond was unceremoniously lifted out of her seat by the two burly White men and dragged out of the cinema. Desmond suffered hip and knee injuries while being dragged out of the cinema. She was taken to jail, arrested and charged with attempting to defraud the provincial government of a one cent amusement tax. After spending an uncomfortable and terrifying night in jail with no opportunity to contact relatives or even a lawyer, at the trial next day Desmond was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine or spend more time in jail. She paid the fine but determined to fight to clear her name and change the segregationist law.
Desmond was supported in her fight by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) which raised money for her cause. Desmond also received support from Carrie Best, African Canadian journalist and founder of “The Clarion.” In 1942 Best and her son Calbert were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace for sitting in the "white section" of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. They were convicted and fined with no mention that their crime was sitting in the “white section” of the cinema (that subtle underhanded version of Canadian racism at work.) Best had unsuccessfully filed a civil suit against the management of the Roseland Theatre. She supported Desmond throughout her fight using the newspaper “The Clarion” (founded in 1946) to publicize the case. The two African Canadian women (Best and Desmond) working together organized other African Canadians to lobby the Nova Scotia government which finally 8 years after the November 8, 1946 incident repealed the segregation law of Nova Scotia in 1954 one year before Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama.
It is important to note that on December 1, 1955 when Parks was arrested on the Montgomery city bus she was sitting in the first set of seats at the back of the bus that were designated for “colored” people. Over the years there have been erroneous accounts that she was sitting in the “white section” and refused to move. No! Rosa Parks refused to move further back when a White man could not find a seat in the “white section” of the bus and the driver demanded that she and 3 other African Americans find seats further back or stand. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and the subsequent year long boycott (December 5, 1955 - December 20, 1956) saw the end of segregation on public transportation in Montgomery. Viola Desmond’s battle to bring an end to segregation in Nova Scotia took a 9 year fight.
At the time that Desmond, Best and other African Canadians in Nova Scotia were fighting to end segregation, African Canadians had recently returned to Canada from fighting in Europe in what was described as the second World War which was supposedly fought to bring freedom to the world. Canada at that time was a dominion of the British Empire whose Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous “Finest Hour” speech on June 18, 1940 which included these words: "Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire." Obviously Churchill’s “Christian civilization” did not include White Canadians being “civil” to African Canadians or considering their “Civil Rights” of any importance. After all their “war efforts” African Canadians in 1946 did not have the “freedom” to sit where they wanted in a cinema. The men who came back from Europe after fighting for “freedom” could only expect to get “good” jobs as sleeping car porters. African Canadian author Stanley Grizzle wrote about his experiences as a soldier in the Canadian armed forces and as a porter on the Canadian railroad in his 1998 published book “My name's not George: The story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters : personal reminiscences of Stanley G. Grizzle.” On May 18, 1945 the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada signed an agreement that represented the first unionized agreement for African Canadian workers with an employer. The men were porters working with the Canadian Pacific and the Northern Alberta Railway. The May 18, 1945 unionization meant that for the first time African Canadian Sleeping Car Porters could bargain for better wages and working conditions and lobby federal and provincial governments to create legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing. It was not until 1964 that African Canadian porters were finally employed in other positions at the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways (CPR and CNR.)
Viola Desmond was honoured with a Canadian postage stamp in February 2012 but her status as a Canadian Civil Rights activist is still not widely recognized.