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New face on bank note: Viola Desmond found strength in her church 

Viola Desmond

By Fr. Raymond de Souza

LAST DECEMBER the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond will be featured on the new $10 banknote, replacing Sir John A. Macdonald.

In 1946, Viola Desmond, a black businessperson, was charged after sitting in the whites-only section of a segregated movie theatre.

Desmond was an entrepreneur who had opened a hair salon for black women in Halifax,  as well as a training school so that others could get the training needed for that business. On a business trip to New Glasgow in 1946, Desmond went to see a movie but refused to sit in the blacks-only balcony of the Roseland Theatre. She was arrested and kept overnight in jail, where she famously sat upright all night, a sign of both determination and dignity.

Desmond was charged and convicted of tax evasion. She was sold a cheaper ticket for the balcony but, having insisted on sitting in the more expensive seating, she was guilty of defrauding the government of one cent of tax revenue, which was based on the ticket price.

After returning home to Halifax, Desmond’s husband advised letting the matter drop. It was her church, and its famous minister, William Pearly Oliver, who persuaded her to fight the matter, and offered her the support and encouragement of the congregation to do so.

The key role of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church is a reminder that without Christians convicted by their faith to engage in the political aspects of our common life, there would have been no abolitionist movement in Britain and no civil rights movement in the United States. Without the Reverend Oliver and his congregation, many of the institutions of liberation for black Nova Scotians would never have come to be, from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Like Harriet Tubman, the American slave-era heroine of the Underground Railroad, it was in the black church that Desmond found both spiritual and practical support for her struggle.   TAP

–Excerpt from “Viola Desmond a good choice” in the

National Post Dec.14, 2016


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