Viola Desmond was arrested 75 years ago this month for refusing to leave her seat in the “whites only” section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. This brave stand by a Black Nova Scotian against the segregation rules of the day in Nova Scotia would inspire future generations to break down the racist structures that had been suppressing Black people in Canada for centuries.
George Elliott Clarke, Canada’s former Poet Laureate, is intimately familiar with that world. His family roots stretch back centuries to the earliest days of Black Nova Scotia, which is the subject of his latest book, Where Beauty Survived: An Africadian Memoir.
“One of the great things about being Africadian,” Clarke says, “is no matter the oppression, and the racism and the apartheid, what made our communities special is that we had communities, we had land, we had homes, we had neighbours who had the same struggles you had, who could share their resources with you, who shared your faith, and all of a sudden you've got this distinct lifestyle that is linked to where you actually live.”
Through the prism of his remarkable family, Clarke takes us on a fascinating journey through Africadia, his name for the tightly knit, Black Nova Scotian communities that are now fading away into the broader culture.
As well as being an award winning poet and former Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke is a professor at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
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