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Settling Africville

Establishment of free black communities a revolutionary act, play suggests

by Robert Devet

Actors Naomi-Joy Blackhall and Drew O'Hara in a scene of Resettling Africville, a new play about early black communities in Nova Scotia, by George Elliott Clarke.  Photo Robert Devet
Actors Naomi-Joy Blackhall and Drew O'Hara in a scene of Resettling Africville, a new play about early black communities in Nova Scotia, by George Elliott Clarke. Photo Robert Devet
Black Nova Scotian religious leader and abolitionist Richard Preston is one of the historic figures featured in the play. Nova Scotia Archives.
Black Nova Scotian religious leader and abolitionist Richard Preston is one of the historic figures featured in the play. Nova Scotia Archives.

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX -  Settling Africville, a new play by playwright and poet George Elliott Clarke, provides a glimpse of life in Africville in its very early days.

The play features politician-journalist Joseph Howe, politician-author Thomas Chandler Haliburton and Richard Preston, the influential Black Nova Scotian clergyman and abolitionist.

Africville, the black community on the shores of the Bedford Basin, was first settled by Black Loyalists and black refugees of the War of 1812. A white City Hall evicted the residents of this vibrant community in the sixties, to make way for a bridge and container pier.

For Juanita Peters,who directed the play, its title, Settling Africville, is significant.

“Here we are in 2014 and Africville is still not settled,” Peters tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “If you can believe we are still discussing whether a dog park should be on this land. It is heartbreaking that we are still having these conversations.”

The play sheds light on a period in Africville's history that we know relatively little about, says Peters. The eviction by a white City Hall in the sixties and its aftermath have been well documented. This is not the case for it early days.

But the play is also plain fun, Peters says. “All the ingredients for a great play are there. “It has history, love, mayhem...”

In the program notes playwright George Elliott Clarke focuses on the importance of efforts by the Black Nova Scotians and Richard Preston in particular to form free black communities in the face of racism and adversity.

“The settling of Africville – and all the other historical black communities in Nova Scotia – was a revolutionary act, carried out by a few thousand blacks, against hostile colonial authorities,” Clarke writes.

The play was commissioned as a fundraiser by the Africville Heritage Trust, the non-profit organization that manages the Africville museum. Clarke dedicated the play to the memory of Burnley “Rockey” Jones.

 

Alderney Landing Theatre

Saturday September 20th, 7 pm

Sunday September 21st , 2 pm and 7 pm

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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