Friday, December 09, 2016

A new face on the money

If cash money survives, when will you first hear someone say, "Gotta stop at the bank machine.  I need some Violas for tonight"?

To see Viola Desmond on the ten-dollar bill will be terrific.  All credit to her for her valiant defiance of racial discrimination backed by authority in 1946. But there's room for others to get credit, too, including the Afro-Canadian community leaders in Halifax and Nova Scotia who have honoured and remembered Viola Desmond for decades. Also, at least a couple of historians.

I'm thinking of legal historian Constance Backhouse of the University of Ottawa. Her scholarly study "'Bitterly Disappointed at the Spread of Colour-Bar Tactics': Viola Desmond's Challenge to Racial Segregation, Nova Scotia, 1946" (in her 1999 book Colour-Coded) was directly influential on a lot of subsequent publicity about Viola Desmond's story. I made that case in 2010 hereMark Reynolds correctly observed that Desmond was hardly unknown in Nova Scotia before that, but the point still stands.

And I'm thinking of historian Merna Forster of the University of Victoria. She has campaigned for years to put some women on Canadian money, and her influence is all over this decision.  Put "Forster" in the search box at top left to see how often she had persuaded me to cover the issue!

Historians, seek some influence. It can happen.
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