KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Africville survivors, their descendants and supporters rallied at City Hall today to send a clear signal to politicians of all stripes that their decades-long struggle for meaningful reparations is picking up steam.
“All levels of government had a hand in the destruction of Africville. We settled the lands of Africville, and we paid our taxes. Meanwhile, they dumped every filthy poisonous industry in our community. And eventually when they couldn’t convince us to leave willingly, they forced us out by hook and by crook, by bulldozing our homes,” said Denise Allen.
Allen is part of a group that is suing the city for compensation, arguing that an apology, a park and a church simply don’t come close to making up for the deep suffering caused by the destruction of an entire community and the forced eviction of all its residents. She was born and lived in Africville until its destruction by the city.
The lawsuit may have hit pause for the moment, but the group is in no way giving up on it.
“It’s not only scandalous, it’s actually criminal. So why keep us in court and drag this out for a lengthy court battle? Don’t keep us in court forever and again until we’re all dead. They should settle with us the same way they already settled with other people who were deserving of reparations, the Chinese, the Japanese and the Italians,” Allen said.
“All we want is our community back”
The other demand that comes through loud and clear is that many survivors want Africville returned. They don’t want a park, they don’t want more apologies, they want once again to live in Africville.
“We’ve come a long way and we’ve got a long way to go,” Eddy Carvery told reporters. “Put Africville back the same way it was. All we want is our community back.”
“I don’t have my community. The essence of what makes me who I am is gone and you gotta bring it back if you want me to be home again. My identity is in that community,” Allen said.
Lynn Jones, who mc’d the rally, is a tireless activist for reparations herself. Referring to a wonderful little book written by a bunch of Halifax kids, R is for Reparations, Jones explained what the movement entails.
“The kids tell us that reparations is about redress and compensation for the global tragedy of the trans Atlantic slave trade. It’s also about the resulting political, social, and economic damage done to African people by things like slavery, colonialism. It’s also about redress for the lasting legacy of poverty, discrimination and anti-Black racism,” Jones said.
It shouldn’t be us in these chambers deciding how those lands should be used
Halifax councillor Lindell Smith, NDP leader Gary Burrill, and federal MP Andy Filmore all spoke at the rally.
The riding of Councillor Smith includes both the former Africville and the North End, where many of its residents ended up in public housing after being evicted.
“I’m not going to pretend that I know everything there is to know about reparations. But what I do know is that I support the community, and will continue to work with community members who are willing to educate myself, to educate my colleagues, and to educate any elected officials who need to know what true justice means for the community of Africville,” Smith said,
“Hopefully it doesn’t have to go as far as a court case. But at city council we must recognize that the lands must be, if not given back, used in a way that the the people of Africville want to see it used. It shouldn’t be us in these chambers deciding how those lands should be used. It’s you the people who should be telling us what needs to happen. I hope, in my position for the next four years, that he will work together to make that a reality. And I hope that you will continue to hold us accountable,” said Smith.
One of the last speakers was Dr. Isaac Saney, who put the struggle for Africville reparations in perspective.
“I teach courses in African Nova Scotian history and African Canadian history. And Africville is always at the center of that story, because it is such a potent reminder of the history of colonialism, anti-Black racism, disenfranchisement, and the history of cultural and physical genocide,” said Saney.
“You Africvillians should be honoured and proud to carry the banner that is a banner not just for the residents of Africville, not just for people of African descent, not just for other oppressed peoples, but a banner for all people who believe in a just society for all human beings.”
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