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Africville Settlement: A Replica Church Amidst a Dog Park

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Seaview Park, Halifax
Seaview Park, Halifax

By Denise Allen

On November 26th, Mayor Kelly announced that $2.5 million had been transferred by the Halifax Regional Municipality to the Africville Heritage Trust Society. This money has already been committed to the construction of a replica of the Seaview Baptist Church and an Africville interpretive centre. $500,000 has been allocated to the installation of water and sewage services in the new buildings. The Africville Heritage Trust Society will be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Church, interpretive centre, and the grounds on which these symbolic gestures will stand. The settlement is also supposed to include the conveyance of 2.5 acres of land; however, this was omitted in HRM’s press release.

The aforementioned is very disturbing. Firstly, while Seaview Park will be renamed “Africville”, the park itself will remain a dog park. The last remnants a proud and independent community that once housed 80 families for more than two centuries will remain the property of HRM. Part of Africville has been redeveloped and sold to a private developer. Apparently, former properties in Africville now comprise the newly formed community of Mont Blanc, meaning “White Mountain”. This new micro community was named in honor of the warship that destroyed Africville, in addition to much of the city, during the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Africville residents were denied any of the $500, 000 left over from the relief fund and deprived of medical aid, blankets, or any form of assistance. And somehow, Mayor Kelly maintains that this new agreement will restore Africville to its “rightful place in our community’s history”. With the stroke of a pen he has denigrated Africville’s past and reduced our vibrant Black community to a dog park; nothing but the token of a replica Church to serve our memory.

The settlement process was callously pre-determined and forced onto the community as an all-or-nothing ultimatum. Municipal government officials took advantage of their power and privilege and ignored the legitimate process determined by the Africville Genealogy Society’s (AGS) by-laws and the Nova Scotia Societies’ Act. The people of Africville did not have a say in the terms of the settlement – it was simply a back-room agreement between HRM and Irvine Carvery, President of the AGS. Presumably, Carvery was powerless to do anything but accept the City’s final offer, meanwhile residents and descendants of Africville are left without even a semblance of justice. A Black Community Affairs Department staffed by one person, has also been created as part of the settlement terms. Is this supposed to absolve HRM’s role in 150 years of systemic racism?

Such a span of history is not so easily forgotten: the people of Africville were prohibited, by law, to attend public school until 1957. Hence they were forced to build, maintain and teach themselves. After desegregation, Africville’s children were streamlined into slow-learners classes devoid of any opportunity for advancement. No other community in Canada has been subject to the same degree of environmental racism as Africville: four open-faced dumps, a bone meal plant, a cotton factory, a rolling mill, a nail factory, a slaughter house, a port facility for handling coal, an infectious disease hospital, a prison, a sewage disposal unit, a tannery, a foundry, and several stone crushing industries – the dirtiest, smelliest, most toxic industries were located within earshot of the homes where children played, whereas all good paying jobs in the industries that strangled Africville were reserved for Whites. Moreover, acres of land were expropriated from the community by Canadian Pacific Railroad to construct three railways through Africville.

This horrific picture was just the beginning. While Africville residents paid taxes like all other property owners, we received no services for our tax dollars – no running water, no sewage  systems, no firefighting, no ambulance services, no electricity, no garbage removal, no sidewalks, no social services. Most of the original homeowners of Africville were 85 years old – our great grandmothers. Imagine the inhumanity of HRM to bulldoze their homes to the ground without their permission and in their absence and consequently, leaving them homeless. Disgracefully, the people of Africville were moved out of their community in dump trucks, and displayed on national news networks for the country to witness their humiliation.

The deal between HRM and the AGS does not equate the oppressive violence that the People of Africville were forced to struggle against all their lives simply because they were Black. Africville was choked and ultimately destroyed by systemic, institutionalized racism, which HRM’s “apology” reflects. Government’s decision to not pay individual compensation undermines the United Nations ruling to pay an indemnity to the people of Africville. Ironically HRM’s announcement is on the eve of the United Nations anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights,

 

***There will be a meeting to discuss the apparent disdain and lack of respect that HRM and all other levels of government shows for the people of Africville on December 18th at the North Branch Library at 2pm. This is a critical meeting for all named plaintiffs in the Africville lawsuit who oppose the current settlement. Contact Denise Allen at 455-2985 or email me at tinkya@yahoo.com for more information.***

 

 


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