When the provincial Liberals reaffirmed a promise to establish a holiday for February, we expected a debate as to whether employers could afford it. Now the topic has twisted in a new direction, with a prominent Nova Scotian making a suggestion as to who it should celebrate.
Ronald Caplan, publisher of Cape Breton Magazine, is championing the idea of naming the holiday, to start in 2015, after Viola Desmond.
Desmond was a black woman seen as a symbol for standing up against systematic injustices aimed at African Canadians in this province, stemming from an incident before the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement.
The owner of a Halifax beauty parlour, Desmond was arrested in a New Glasgow movie theatre in November 1945 after she refused to leave her seat on the main floor, whites-only section. After a night in jail, she was convicted of defrauding the Nova Scotia government of the penny difference in tax over the ticket price.
In recent years the province issued a pardon, describing the arrest and prosecution as a miscarriage of justice.
The incident has often been compared to the refusal by Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955, a key spark in the civil rights movement.
Caplan raises a good point. Desmond stands not only as a figure in modernizing perceptions in race relations. She founded a business when such an achievement by a black Nova Scotian wasn’t easy. She also stands as an icon for social justice in Canada.
This February holiday business: Nova Scotia is behind the other provinces getting on board. The others have a mix of names, some with such generic designations as ‘Family Day.’ It’s too late to come up with an encompassing celebratory theme.
This would, coincidentally, come during African Heritage Month.
People don’t necessarily know enough about the history that helped shape their land, culture and attitudes. A holiday that keeps such a vital, relevant story alive is an excellent idea.