Africville: The lesson still unlearned

No one asked them. Again.


The real lesson of the original Africville relocation—which should be seared into our collective consciousness after 50 years of hard-learned lesson-living—is that outsiders, even well intentioned ones, cannot make decisions for a community without at least asking the people of that community what they really want.

Back in the 1960s, many well-intentioned outsiders (and some, it must be said, not so well intentioned) believed Africville, a poor black community on the edge of Bedford Basin, was a blight and an eyesore, a health risk to its 400 inhabitants.

They unilaterally determined the families who lived there would be better off in massive new concrete-and-asphalt public housing complexes.

So they grabbed their land for far less than its prime waterfront location should have commanded; eliminated Africville’s traditional communal subsistence economy; moved residents in city trucks and dumped them in places that were not their own—and expected a thank you for a job well done.

They didn’t get it.

Africville’s residents never asked to be relocated. They liked their community precisely because it was filled with family, friends, neighbours and “other mothers.” They did want long-denied city services like sewer, water and fire protection, of course, but the city could have provided them for less than it cost to relocate the community.

No one had asked the residents what they wanted.

Which is why “No More Africvilles” is still the looped refrain in Nova Scotia’s remaining black communities whenever well-intentioned outsiders try to make decisions for them.

Now, another even more well-intentioned group, the Africville Heritage Trust, has decided it knew best who to hire to run the new non-profit group’s Africville memorial.

They hired a white woman from out of the province.

Even if the woman had turned out to be otherwise qualified—which it now seems she was not—the fact the community was not consulted made her a non-starter.

Last week, 200 members of the local black community voted unanimously to demand the trust find a new executive director. Belatedly, the Trust de-hired the woman.

And unintentionally reminded us again that we still need to learn the real lesson of the Africville relocation.

Previous Africville-related columns, etc.

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