Transcription Viola Desmond: Unlikely Crusader

Viola Desmond was a woman who ran a beauty shop in Halifax. She was about in her early 30s and in 1940s Nova Scotia, overt segregation wasn't enforced by the law but there was some separation of the races.

There were certainly places that blacks knew they weren't always welcome, and in fact, Desmond, in order to certify, had to go to a beauty school in Montreal because no school in Nova Scotia would accept her.

In 1946 she was actually on a business trip out of Halifax and her car broke down in a smaller town called New Glasgow. While she had to stay overnight to wait for repairs she decided to take in a movie. What she didn't realize, was that the local rule, was that blacks had to sit in the balcony.

She bought a ticket, was sold a ticket for the balcony, proceeded to sit in the regular section of the theatre because she wasn't aware that there was a difference and was quite incensed, and I think understandably, when theatre management asked her to move to the balcony.

She refused and in really the same way that Rosa Parks became famous here a few years later in the states for refusing to give her seat up to a white person on a bus, I think Desmond just figured she'd had enough of this kind of discrimination and refused to leave, feeling that she was justified to stay there and ended up being actually arrested and taken away by the police and held in jail overnight.

What she was charged with, the offense, it seems unbelievable to modern eyes, the offense was evading one cent in tax which would have been the difference between a balcony and lower bowl of ticket in this theatre. So it was really a trumped up charge.

She was arraigned the next day and convicted of the charge, and after that her case really became a cause, the black community in Nova Scotia really had enough of this and this became a way to fight this undercurrent of Jim Crow Laws that did persist in in places in Nova Scotia, and in Canada, at the time.

Her case got national attention in Saturday Night magazine, the Globe and Mail, and it drew attention to this lingering vestige of sort of official segregation in Canada. Viola Desmond didn't set out to become a shining beacon for equality, or a crusader against racism or segregation, but her case really did stand for all of that, and that's why she really deserves to be remembered and honored today.