February 2nd, 2014 – Canada’s Viola Desmond

Canada’s Viola Desmond, because why not start with a little controversy. If you search for African-Canadian heroes, Viola Desmond’s name is one of the first delivered. Desmond was a successful business woman born on July 6th, 1914 in Halifax, Canada, and passed away in New York on February 7, 1965.

According to Wikipedia, in 1946, Desmond went to the movies and sat down in the orchestra section reserved for “whites only”, declining the balcony where regulations would require her to sit. She was forcibly removed from the theater and charged with tax evasion. As wild as the tax evasion charge sounds, the Canadian government justified the charge because to the taxation difference between ground floor tickets and balcony tickets. The amount in question? One cent.

The Viola Desmond event became the most publicized racial event of that time in Canada. Desmond would lose the case, and the racist policies continued at that theater. During the trial Desmond was supported by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in turn when Desmond’s lawyer returned her fee after losing the case, Desmond contributed the sum to the NSAACP.

Between the import of Desmond’s actions and that it involved rebellion against the segregated seating, Viola Desmond is sometimes referred as the Rosa Parks of Canada. There are those who would argue against that moniker, but Desmond’s actions did help to move Canada toward racial equality.

It would be 66 years after the event that the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia would grant Desmond a posthumous pardon via Royal Prerogative.

Two years ago on February 1, 2012, Canada Post issued the Viola Desmond stamp.

bhm-violadesmond

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