9 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a businesswoman named Viola Desmond caused a stir in Nova Scotia.
It was November 8, 1946 and Viola Desmond, a successful beautician and entrepreneur was on the road delivering her own line of beauty products to out of town studios. Car trouble forced her to have idle time in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia so she took in a movie. The Roseland Theater that she entered had a racist practice restricting Blacks to sit in the balcony. Viola sat down stairs and when asked to move, refused to go to the balcony.
For that refusal, she was ejected from the theater, arrested by the New Glasgow police, locked over night in the New Glasgow jail, charged, found guilty and sentenced in the New Glasgow court. She was found guilty of defrauding the government of the 1 cent difference in the 3 cent tax in a downstairs ticket and the 2 cents tax in a balcony ticket. She paid the fine plus costs and left New Glasgow.
When she returned to Halifax, the newly formed Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People encouraged her to fight to overturn that malicious conviction. Unfortunately, the appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was unsuccessful. The 1946 conviction remained on her record.
Viola Desmond had been denied the protection that one expects from the police, the prosecutors, the judges and the courts. Eventually, she left her business, left Nova Scotia and left Canada. Her 1965 death occurred in New York City.
In 2010, sixty-four years after the fact, the government of Nova Scotia apologized to Viola Desmond’s remaining family and acknowledged the integrity, strength and bravery of her action defending human rights. In 2012, Canada Post issued a Canadian postage stamp commemorating her stand for justice.
Canadian author Jody Nyasha Warner revisits the story of Viola Desmond in the book “Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged” available on amazon.ca