Africville can’t escape racial divide

The choice of a new Halifax museum’s executive director is stoking old tensions

The Africville Church Museum, a memorial to the bulldozed Nova Scotia town, will open to the public for the first time on Sunday, Sept. 25. The event is the culmination of years of lobbying by African-Canadians. But it comes as members of the community in Nova Scotia are stuck in a sudden and unexpected feud.

The Africville Historical Trust, which oversees the museum, recently hired Carole Nixon as its new executive director. Nixon is an Anglican priest with a university certificate in black studies. She is also, in the words of her detractors, “a Caucasian, British woman from Ontario,” a fact that does not sit well with some black Nova Scotians.

After the hiring was announced, Veronica Marsman, president of the Association of Black Social Workers, and Burnley “Rocky” Jones, a human rights lawyer, wrote a letter to the trust decrying the fact that a black candidate wasn’t found for the job. The letter called Nixon’s appointment “detrimental to the survival and growth of the African Nova Scotia community” and urged the trust to reconsider the appointment. “It really baffles me to think there wasn’t an African-Canadian person in this entire country who could fill this role,” Marsman says.

But Daurene Lewis, who chairs the trust’s board, thinks little of the complaints. The board’s preference was always to bring on a black candidate, she says, but “that was not going to be a deal breaker.” She believes the situation is “reminiscent of the 1960s. I just find it absolutely amazing that anybody would think that somebody who is appropriately qualified . . . would not get a job,” she says. “That’s the whole point of fair hiring.” Asked if the board would consider firing Nixon, she replied: “Not a chance.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.