The compensation issue drags on

The Daily News, March 22, 1995

Memo to aldermen: End Africville madness

When will Africville really be behind us? When will "this chapter of the history of Halifax" — as a recent city council resolution called it — finally be considered closed?

When some self-interested aldermen say it is?

Not damn likely.

In December, Halifax city council passed a motion giving the Africville Genealogy Society’s compensation committee three months to examine city documents to determine if it believed it could make a legitimate case for compensating former residents of Africville, the black community the city plowed under in the late 1960s.

When the deadline came and went last week, some city aldermen moved with unseemly haste to … well, if not declare victory, at least claim that the time for discussion was at an end.

"It’s over," declared Ward 10 Ald. Russell Walker. Ward 7 Ald. Steve Adams agreed. So did War 11 Ald. Mary Crowley. Ward 8 Ald. Ron Hansen conceded he might be prepared to listen to arguments to extend the deadline but that the city had "exhausted most of its energies" as far as Africville is concerned.

Huh?

Who has really "exhausted most of its energies" over the Africville issue?

Certainly not the current crop of Halifax aldermen.

Africville has been a festering sore on the city’s body politic for more than 25 years. The people who were expropriated have lived with the consequences for 25 years. The current crop of aldermen were only elected last fall.

While it’s certainly possible to argue with a straight face that city fathers never intended to do harm when they expropriated and demolished the community back in the late 1960s, that they honestly believed they were looking out for the best interests of Africville’s 400 residents, that those were, anyway, different times and blah-blah-blah, the simple fact is that the decision to wipe out the small black community on the edge of Bedford Basin was wrong.

As wrong then as it is now.

Despite that, no one in authority has ever officially acknowledged as much, never apologized for the wrong that was done, never tried to finally make it right.

Instead, city fathers seem desperately anxious to find whatever excuse they can to sweep the matter back under the rug whenever it sneaks out into the light.

The current situation is instructive. City council set up a committee — composed of Mayor Walter Fitzgerald and aldermen Jerry Blumenthal and Larry Uteck — to look into the compensation issue last fall, but a staff report soon after claimed there was no need to pay compensation to the former residents.

When Africville Genealogy Society president Irvine Carvery criticized that report, council agreed to give his group access to city records for three months to see if it could document the case for compensation.

Carvery now says he understood the three-month date set out in the city resolution represented just a target date — his group is in the process of hiring two researchers, and he expects the task of sifting through the records to take up to nine months — but aldermen say the deadline was sacred.

Why?

Because they’d like this issue off the table when the G-7 summit takes place here this summer? Because Africville makes them uncomfortable. Because they think they can pretend the issue away?

They should remember the simple fact that a previous city council believed Africville dead and buried a generation ago. It was wrong.

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Copyright 2009 Stephen Kimber, Website