Thursday, February 02, 2012

Viola Desmond stamp

Canada Post's new stamp honours Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotia woman denied entrance in 1945 to the main seating area of a New Glasgow movie theatre because she was black and then prosecuted for breaking the law when she complained.

I think maybe the stamp also honours historical scholarship.  To my knowledge, the Viola Desmond story was essentially unknown to the wider public before Professor Constance Backhouse, now of the University of Ottawa law school, wrote a chapter about her case in a scholarly work of legal history in 1999.

To recapitulate what I blogged a year's ago when Ms Desmond received a posthumous pardon and apology from Nova Scotia:
"The racial insult was not forgotten in the Nova Scotia black community and civil rights organizations. But the first really authoritative retelling was by Ottawa legal historian Constance Backhouse, who devoted a long and immensely detailed chapter to the event in her 1999 book Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada 1900-1950, published by UTP for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. Backhouse's chapter helped inspire a short story, "One Down," by Dionne Brand that was published in the 2001 history/fiction anthology Story of A Nation. CBC presented a radio drama, "Living in Hope." The Beaver ran a cover story by Dean Jobb in April 2009. Gradually the story just became part of the narrative. Now comes the pardon."
 Now there is also a kid's book by Jody Nyasha Warner: Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged.  And the stamp.  Update: and then there's Sister to Courage, by Desmond's sister Wanda Robson.

(I'd completely forgotten that post from April 2010 until, starting to post about the stamp, I googled a little and came across my own story.  Blogging life: file and forget.)
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