From: Patricia Kipping
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 8:08 AM
Subject: before Rosa Parks
I know you have a special place in your heart for Canada and Nova Scotia and I've been in the audience at the Atlantic Film Festival twice when you've visited. I thought you'd like to know about Nova Scotia's "own Rosa Parks", Viola Desmond and her courage act in 1946 - almost 60 years ago. A friend who grew up in New Glasgow wrote this letter to the editor on the occasion of Rosa Parks' death.
My act to honour the memory of both Rosa and Viola is to remind you and your readers of this little-known piece of Canadian social justice history. The struggle continues north of 49 too.
On November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond, a Halifax, Nova Scotia beautician and businesswoman, was stranded in a snowstorm in New Glasgow while travelling to Sydney. After she found a place to stay, she decided to go to a movie at the Roseland Theatre. Because she sat in the lower "Whites Only" house seats, the manager asked her to move to the balcony designated for Black patrons. As she refused, he called the police and she was arrested, dragged from the theatre and put in jail overnight.
The next day Viola was charged with attempting to defraud the Federal Government as she hadn't paid a 1-cent amusement tax difference between the 2 cents for a balcony seat and the 3 cents charged to sit downstairs. Despite her offer to pay the difference, she was convicted of failing to pay the tax on the downstairs ticket.
Her trial without counsel led to a $20 fine and 30 days in prison. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People raised the money for her fine and an appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, lost on a technicality. Laws allowing segregation in Nova Scotia were finally repealed in 1954.
Let's remember the courage of Viola Desmond (1914-1965) whose action took place almost ten years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
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