Viola Desmond's Canada

A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

January 18, 2018

Author Graham Reynolds is a professor emeritus and the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice at Cape Breton University. In Viola Desmond’s Canada, he writes of the “collective amnesia” regarding Desmond’s wrongful arrest for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946.

Reynolds also considers the origins of slavery in Canada, U.S. Jim Crow laws and Canada’s assimilation of segregation, West Indian immigration, and the Ku Klux Klan and other evidence of the culture of racism. Two other interesting sections are an examination of the possessions of a forty-year-old freed slave, Marie Marguerite Rose, upon her death in 1757 and the closing chapter on little-known Nova Scotian black activist Pearleen Oliver.

The book includes a chapter written by Desmond’s youngest sister, Wanda Robson, and concludes with a discussion at the 2011 Promised Land Symposium that includes Robson’s poignant comment, “Racism is certainly not fair; it’s ugly, it’s demeaning, and it is very hurtful.”

Photographs, letters, posters, and newspaper clippings are used to portray many past injustices and help Reynolds reveal a scar upon Canada’s past that has not completely healed.

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