The tragic story of Africville, a thriving black Canadian settlement that was bulldozed

Mildred Europa Taylor Mar 21, 2020 at 02:00pm

March 21, 2020 at 02:00 pm | History

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

March 21, 2020 at 02:00 pm | History

Halifax authorities found a way to destroy the seaside community in the 1960s in what many said was an act of racism. Photo: The Canadian Encyclopedia

From 1848 to over 150 years that Africville continued to exist, it was a haven from the anti-black racism that many black settlers in Canada faced in the city of Halifax. But authorities soon found a way to destroy the seaside community in the 1960s in what many said was an act of racism.

Today, many have forgotten about Africville but certainly not Eddie Carvery, the only surviving protestor who is still demanding that the African-Canadian village is not only remembered but also restored.

Africville, before its destruction, was a primarily poor, black community located on the south shore of the Bedford Basin, on the outskirts of Halifax. Before the founding of Halifax in 1749, black people were living in Nova Scotia, which also became the last stop on the underground railroad.

Records say that after the American Revolution, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, large groups of black settlers, mainly former enslaved people, started arriving in Nova Scotia, Canada. Scores of them were promised land and freedom in the province but things went sour when they arrived and had to face white settlers who viewed them as inferior.

Thus, many black settlers moved towards the margins of society and began building vibrant communities. Africville became one of such communities.

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Africville. Photo: Rabble.ca

The bustling community that provided a warm, wonderful feeling for residents, came with stores, a post office, a school, and the popular Seaview United Baptist Church, which became the heart of the community.

The church wasn’t just the place of worship in the community; it was the business center, the town hall, the place where Bible classes were held and youth clubs met, according to a report by CBC.

Residents paid taxes but they lacked social amenities, which presented many challenges to them. They pleaded with Halifax authorities to provide them with basic amenities such as access to clean water, sewage, and garbage disposal, but authorities refused.

Instead, Halifax built a hospital for diseased World War II soldiers nearby, a prison and a toxic waste dump, all in a bid to force residents out of Africville to redevelop it for industry.

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Eddie Carvery, the only surviving protestor who is still demanding that the African-Canadian village is not only remembered but also restored. Photo: Canadian Geographic

“The hospital would just dump their raw garbage on the dump—bloody body parts, blankets, and everything. We were subject to that. And then they would burn this dump every so often,” Carvery, who has been protesting the injustice by occupying what was then Africville, told Vice.

“There would be walls of fire and toxic smoke, and we used to run through that fire to get the metals before they melted because we scavenged off the dump. We had to. You had to do that to survive.”

These undesirable conditions eventually made it easy for Halifax authorities to compel residents of Africville to relocate. Halifax City Council voted in January 1964 to authorize the relocation of Africville residents without even consulting them. The first land was expropriated in 1964, and homes were bulldozed over the next five years.

Residents who had proof that they owned their land were offered payment equal to the value of their homes while those without proof were offered $500, according to the Canadian Museum For Human Rights.

In some instances, intimidation was used to force people from their homes and by January 1970, all residents, numbering about 400, had been relocated despite their resistance.

After the relocation, many of them found that the sum given to them for their land and property could only last for a short period while jobs were still hard to find due to factors like racism.

Residents, in the 1980s, formed the Africville Genealogy Society to fight for their rights and seek justice while some began holding picnics, church services and weekend gatherings on the site of Africville.

In 2010, a settlement was reached and the mayor of Halifax publicly apologized for the destruction of Africville and said the city would build a replica church, which now serves as the Africville Museum. But not all residents were impressed and some, including Carvery, are still demanding individual compensation for all the suffering they went through.

“Africville wasn’t a hallucination,” said Carvery, “it was a real society within this society. And what they did was a slow genocide. They poisoned us. They forced us out of our homes. They created illiteracy. They’re guilty of racism and genocide in the first degree. They’re guilty and they know it.”

The place where Africville stood is now a park. Every summer, people who lived in Africville along with their descendants, hold a reunion there. 

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