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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 96 18:58:10 CST
From: Marpessa Kupendua <nattyreb@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: !*AFRICVILLE - Urban Removal in Canada
Article: 1685

Africville: Urban Removal in Canada

By Pamela Brown, 2 December 1996

"I think the Man got what he wanted - that (Africville) land. It was as simple as that. People were allowed to stay there the same as black folks anywhere; they could stay until the White man decided. Okay, now I want my land back. And the time came, and he said, "Okay nigger, get out!" And all the black folks had to get out."
-- This is from an interview with a Nova Scotian Black Leader, Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 1969

Africville was a black community within the city of Halifax, inhabited by approximately four hundred people, comprising eighty families, many of who were descended from settlers who had moved there over a century ago. (settlers origin follows at end of document) Tucked away in a corner of the city, relatively invisible, and thought of as a "shack town," Africiville was a depressed community both in physical and socio-economic terms.

Its dwellings were located beside the city dump, and railroad tracks cut across the one dirt road leading into the area. Sewerage, lighting, and other public services were conspicuously absent. The people had little education, very low incomes, and many were under employed. Property clams were in chaos: only a handful of families could establish legal title; other claimed squatter rights; and still others rented. Africville, long considered a "black mark" against white society, had been designated for future industrial and harbor development.

Many reported that despite these liabilities there was a strong sense of community and that some residents expressed satisfaction with living in Africiville.

In 1964 Africville began to be phased out of existence. A relocation plan was announced by the City of Halifax. The plan emphasized humanitarian concern, including employment and education programs and referred to the creation of new opportunities for the people of Africville. To the general public, the proposed relocation was a progressive step. In 1968 the Africville relocation was claimed locally as a success. Private communication with city officials and relocation officials in the United States and Other parts of Canada brought praise to the Africville relocation. It is important to note by whom the relocation was considered a success.

Although Africville is no more, it still thrives in the hearts and minds of many of the relocatees. CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) television produced a film that focused on Africville's former residents in 1987. The project focused on the current feelings and remembrances of those relocated. The program highlighted the sense of the family, community and continuity they associate with Africville and detailing their continued efforts to "keep it alive and pass it along" through song, summer gatherings "out home." in the park that now stands where Africville was once home. It is a time when the former residents can grieve the loss of their community identity.

The former Africville residents who meet annually at reunions sponsored by the Africville Genealogy society emphasize its continuing significance for their sense of self and their roots. An Africville former resident was quoted as saying at a 1988 reunion "I don t want my kids to lose sight of where I came from. It could have been their home too." (The Daily News, July 30, 1986) Another said " the reunion is important to the descendants because it gives them a place to come back to and remember, And it s important to teach the children we hope that they learn from what has happened." (the Mail-Star, August 2,1986) These reunions also ensure that the young generation know the Africville story.

Africville is one of many signals to the Canadian Black population that remind us that dangers to black communities and traditions can, have and will guise themselves as city development projects, and area upgrading. Members of the Black United Front of Nova Scotia warns that we should be always questioning the motives of our so called saviors. Though the City of Nova Scotia claims that the relocation was for humanitarian reasons and as a part of a large urban renewal plan the city had proposed, records revealed the true purpose to the relocation of this black community.

In 1945, a Civic Planning Commission submitted to City Council a plan calling for the removal of the Africville settlement. No reference was made to the wishes of the Africville people, In 1947 Halifax was rezoned and council approved the designation of Africville as industrial land. The residents of Africville were informed of the council decision and expressed a strong desire to remain in the area and to work with the city in developing it as a residential area. City council authorized the borrowing of funds to provide water and sewerage services, but the services were never installed. In the 1950 s discussions in the City council concerning the industrial potential of the Africville site increased. For a variety of reasons Africville land was a prime potential site for industrial development; the City of Halifax owned sizable property to the south, east and west; railway tracks paralleled and criss-crossed the community; and the shore line was valuable for harbor development. This industrial-use momentum intensified in the mid - 1950 s and early 1960 s. In mid -1954 the City Manager submitted to Halifax City Council a report that recommended the shifting of Africiville residents to City - owned property southwest of the existing community site. The report noted that the underlying intention of the plan was acquisition of land for industrial purposes. The report stated:

"The area is not suited for residences but properly developed is ideal for industrial purposed. There is water frontage for piers, the railway for sidings, a road to be developed leading directly downtown and in the other direction to the provincial highway."

The development of the Bedford Basin shoreline (where Africville was located) was deemed important for both harbor expansion and the economic growth of the city. It was for these reasons that the City wanted to acquire Africville shoreline property.

The humanitarian concerns were pushed at the time that Africville residents were moved. The concerns related to two matters: the improvement of living conditions, and the racial integration of Africville residents. The segregated black community and the poverty of its residents had, however, existed for many years prior to the events of 1962-64 and the final decision to relocate. Documentation of numerous petitions from Africville residents and others on their behalf to improve living conditions are in the minutes of City meetings as well as the abortive city policies formulated to rectify deprivation in Africville. Why did the humanitarian concern crystallize at this time. One Resident commented:

For 150 years (the Africville residents) were nourished on neglect. Now everyone professes and interest in them. The community of Africville is like a patient that has had shivered for weeks in the corridor of a hospital and then is suddenly whipped into a private room where a squadron of nurses fight to take her temperature and feel her pulse.

The city council set up an alliance of black and white "caretakers" to act as the voice of the community at council meetings and aid in the relocation exchange terms. Africville residents were not consulted in the formation of initial relocation terms, and no attention was given to considering strategies whereby residents could be involved in the planning process. Given the City s power through control of resources, the financial exchange terms had a one-sided advantage in its favor. Most families would receive a gratuitous payment of $500, hardly an amount sufficient for resettlement in metropolitan Halifax, in which the cost of living ranks among the highest in Canada. The "caretakers" were members of the Halifax Human Rights Advisory. A committee formulated to protect the interests of Africville residents. The caretakers had become members of the committee through concern for human rights, accepting the "civil rights political climate" of the 1960 s, they were against racial segregation and believed in integration. Their political ideology can be characterized as mainstream liberalism.

The Advisory core membership consisted of ten members, four whites and six blacks. (three blacks were residents of Africville, they attended half of the meetings held by the advisory.)

1. White Caretakers: These members had impressive credentials for their role as "citizens at large" advocates in the Africville relocation. Three were university graduates while the fourth was a tradesman. The white caretakers had little or no knowledge of Africville s social structure and, despite their previous involvement in "black social problems," they had minimal contact with Africville and its residents.

2. Black Caretakers: This group was said to have had a high degree of "black consciousness" and were deeply concerned about white discrimination against Nova Scotian blacks. One of them described as follows the relationship between the City of Halifax and its black residents:

{I don t think they (City Officials) give a damn about black people in Halifax, (We) have never been a group to reckon with. We have never been a political power. We never had a pressure group. We never had money. We were just damn nuisances.

You know, what the hell! "So we inherited those people form slavery we ve got to do something about them, so give them some land" In the province, they have been given land that was useless in the hope that a combination between inclemency of the weather and the infertility of the soil we would all die. But geez, God must have been on our side. Man, we have survived, more that survived; the black population has increased. So I would say, basically the city just didn t give a damn.}

Only one of these three black caretakers was a native of Nova Scotia. The second had come from the West Indies and the third was raised in the United States. They were all employed in middle class occupations. In general they had only superficial knowledge of Africiville s history and social structure. During the relocation decision making they were the major black "advocates" for the community, and later two of them became members of an important City Hall sub-committee that reviewed Africiville relocation settlements.

It was decided that Africville residents were recognized as a group of Halifax citizens requiring special attention, and the City planned to end segregation and provide improved opportunities for the disadvantaged residents of Africville. This would be achieved by welfare planning, coordinating employment, educational, and rehabilitative programs with the re-housing of residents.

The City still contends the residents were removed involuntarily from their homes in the name of "progressive" relocation. To date the "new start" promised the residents of Africville have never materialized. They still suffer from socio-economic disadvantage and live in crowed and "bureaucratic" public housing. One elderly Africville resident, referred to by other Africville residents as "Mother Africville" had, upon being relocated, been placed in a flat in the redevelopment area; the home burned down and she was then placed by the City in another flat which one of a study s interviewers described as follows:

showed me through the rooms which she had the use of. They were a front room which is the only room she uses, a kitchen in which the sink and cupboards are torn out, and another room which is empty. The rooms were all clean. There is a bathroom upstairs but the plumbing does not work. She uses a bed pan instead of a toilet, and gets water from the house next door. There is a bed, a couch , a refrigerator which doesn t work, a fire place, washing machine, and table in the front room. The building is not heated.

The city defends it s position based on the fact that the industrial plans never materialized. Although the road was completed. The land houses only a park today. Despite the city s position, most of the black leaders interviewed still believe that Africville was choice real estate of considerable value to the City. The summery of this article can be done better justice by one Nova Scotian Black minister in his following statement:

(the Africville relocation ) was something that was planned for years. That s a very ideal locality and I think in the long - range planning of the City of Halifax they looked forward to the day when they were going to move those Negroes because they wanted the area. They didn t do anything to help those people do anything for themselves. It was planned, it was deliberate, and when the time came for them to move them, they moved them.

History of Nova Scotia's Black Settlers A Slave Society

Nova Scotia was at one time a "slave society" Although lack of agricultural potential in the uneven an rocky terrain of Nova Scotia prevented slavery from developing on a plantation scale, the number of slaves in Nova Scotia was substantial.

Free Loyalist Blacks Most of the blacks migrating to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution were free, for the most part having been freed by the British as an inducement to encourage them to leave their revolutionary masters. Free Blacks were promised equal treatment with their white peers, but promises were not fulfilled. In order to survive, a number of blacks were forced to sell themselves or their children into slavery or long-term indenture. In 1792 an agent of the Sierra Leone Company recruited blacks in the province to migrate to Africa. Additional migrations took place, in 1800 to Sierra Leone and in 1821 to Trinidad.

The Maroons After the departure of loyalists to Sierra Leone a small group of blacks settled temporarily on the lands vacated by the black loyalists in the Preston area. In 1796, some 550 maroons, deported from Jamaica, were settled on the lands vacated by the black Loyalists at Preston. The Maroons, with their different customs, were well-treated officially, but encountered some local prejudice and discrimination. In 1800 virtually all the Maroons (at most, a handful may have been assimilated into the black Nova Scotian population) were shipped to Sierra Leone where, ironically enough, they helped to suppress a rebellion by the former black loyalists.

Refugee Blacks Following the War of 1812, Nova Scotia became home to Black refugees. Several hundred Blacks had sought protection with the British during the war after the commander of the British fleet issued a proclamation which said that all British subjects who came to a British ship or a British military post would be granted free transportation to another British possession in North America or the West Indies. There they were to be treated as free settlers. In this way between 2000 and 3000 blacks streamed into the province by 1815. These refugees appear to have received better official reception and more food, clothing, and medicine that had their loyalist predecessors, although the land received was similarly rocky and barren. Nearly all of the refugee blacks were settled within a short distance of Halifax, principally at Preston, which was depopulated due to the emigration of black loyalists to Sierra Leone, and at Hammond Plains.

Africville s Settlers The original Africville settlers were former residents of the refugee settlements at Preston and Hammond Plains who moved to Africville in order to escape the economic hardships encountered on rocky and barren land. The refuge settlements were made up of the many blacks that had come to Nova Soctia over several centuries. Local tradition of almost every interviewed resident of Africville believed that Africville had been founded by former slaves from the United States.