Viola Desmond, Activist, Entrepreneur and a Face That You Will be Seeing Around
Last December, I heard the strangest thing. Could my ears have been playing tricks on me or did the radio announcer just say that Viola Desmond would be replacing Sir John A. MacDonald on a series of $10 bills in 2018? As it turns out, I was not daydreaming. My shock turned into joy and my eyes misted over as the ramification of this decision soaked in. What stood out was not that she would be the first Canadian woman to grace our currency, but that Desmond was a black rights activist. Nine years before Rosa Parks became a name synonymous with American Civil Rights, Viola Desmond opposed racial segregation in Canada by standing up to the imposing authorities of her day. Her refusal to sit in the all black section of the theatre got her thrown in jail and her court case was one of the first of its kind in Canada. Desmond's story was recently depicted in a Heritage Minutes short film created by Historica Canada.
Of all the women nominated to be featured on Canada's $10 bill, 461 met the eligibility requirements. The short list included:
- E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913): Johnson, a Mohawk woman, was an acclaimed writer, poet and performer, whose work often examined Indigenous culture and traditions.
- Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill (1905-1980): MacGill, the first woman in the world to work as an aircraft designer, is known for her work on the Hawker Hurricane fighter planes used in the Second World War.
- Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld (1905-1969): Rosenfeld won gold and silver on the track at the 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam.
- Idola Saint-Jean (1880-1945): Saint-Jean, an educator and journalist, fought for women's right to vote in Quebec.
Much more than a "reason" to attend Black History Month events at the library and across the city, Desmond forces us all to look at our history and ourselves. She will remind us of this when we shop or purchase services with cash or go to the bank. Ironically, back in 1946, when Viola Desmond was dragged from that theatre, she was convicted of defrauding the province of a one penny tax. She was fined $20 for the trumped up offense and charged $6 in court costs. Now her image will be on Canadian currency. If you'd like to know more about this influential individual, check out what the library has available and learn more about Desmond's courage and her triumph that changed the course of history. A book about Desmond is highlighted in the library's Black History Month Recommended Reading list. It includes great titles for readers of all ages.
Viola Desmond's Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land by Graham Reynolds
A black Halifax businesswoman, Viola Desmond, was wrongfully arrested for sitting in a white's-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 2010, 64 years later, the Nova Scotia government recognized this gross miscarriage of justice and posthumously granted her a free pardon.
Viola Desmond Won't be Budged by Jody Warner
In 1946, unsung hero Viola Desmond stood up to racial segregation by refusing to give up her seat on the main floor of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia. Her struggle for equality is exemplified in this simple picture book.
While Desmond is known for her courageous stand, her other achievements are often overshadowed. Before she became an activist, she was an incredibly successful entrepreneur. She opened the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, a beautician school, and created a line of beauty products. For Desmond, entrepreneurship was her forte. Perhaps this may be a road for you as well? With over 250 books and hundreds of articles on how to start your own business, maybe it is time to channel your "inner Viola" and explore your opportunities. Courage, gumption and tenacity...we can all step up and step forward.