Viola Desmond, civil-rights pioneer, to be featured on Canada’s new $10 bill

In 1946, Viola Desmond’s stand at a segregated Nova Scotia movie theatre made her into a civil-rights icon for black Canadians. On Thursday, the federal government announced that she’ll be the new face on the Canadian $10 bill in 2018. Here’s what you need to know about he.

Read the full article at The Globe and Mail – Viola Desmond, civil-rights pioneer, to be featured on Canada’s new $10 bill.

Self-made makeup maven

Viola Desmond was a cosmetics pioneer for black women in Atlantic Canada. Following in the footsteps of her father, a Halifax barber, Ms. Desmond started out in business at a time when few beauty schools would accept black students. After training in Montreal, Atlantic City and New York, she founded her own institution, Halifax’s Desmond School of Beauty Culture, selling her own line of hair and skin products across Nova Scotia. But on one business trip on Nov. 8, 1946, when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Ms. Desmond would become famous for another reason.


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A night at the movies

The fateful movie she went to see was The Dark Mirror, a psychological thriller starring Olivia de Havilland. She was at the Roseland Theatre to kill time while a garage repaired her car, which wouldn’t be ready until the next day. But the Roseland was a segregated theatre; the floor seats were for whites only, while black patrons were confined to the balcony. Ms. Desmond was shortsighted and needed a better view, and tried to buy a floor seat, but was refused because she was black. She then bought a balcony seat (which was one cent cheaper) but sat in the floor area – until theatre staff called the police and had her dragged out. She spent 12 hours in jail.

On trial for a single penny

She was charged and convicted of tax evasion – over a single penny. She did not have a lawyer at trial – she was never informed she was entitled to one. Arguing that Ms. Desmond had evaded the one-cent difference between the balcony and floor ticket prices, a judge fined her $26. Protests from Nova Scotia’s black community and an appeal to the provincial Supreme Court proved fruitless, and Ms. Desmond died in 1965 without any acknowledgment of racial discrimination in her case.

‘She is now free’

In 2010, Nova Scotia gave her a free pardon – and the black lieutenant-governor signed it into law. “Here I am, 64 years later – a black woman giving freedom to another black woman,” Mayann Francis recalled in a 2014 profile about the pardon, which called Ms. Desmond’s case a miscarriage of justice and said she should never have been charged. “I believe she has to know that she is now free.”

Her minute of fame

Ms. Desmond was the first historical woman of colour to get her own Heritage Minute, which was played at the Thursday event where the banknote was announced. Actress Kandyse McClure portrayed her in the Heritage Minute, which had been released this past February for Black History Month. “I am honoured to give voice to a woman whose only crime was the expectation of being treated not as black or as a woman, but as a human being,” Ms. McClure wrote in an article for the Huffington Post at the time. Historica Canada has since produced another Heritage Minute focusing on a woman of colour, Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak.

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Read the full article at The Globe and Mail – Viola Desmond, civil-rights pioneer, to be featured on Canada’s new $10 bill.

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