Evelyn Ashworth All Saints Catholic High School Ottawa, Ontario December 1, 2017
Carrie Best: The Power of Her Words
Words hold great power, and give power to those who speak them. Today almost anyone can publish their own words through infinite forms of media; social networking sites, newspapers, radio and broadcasting. Freedom of speech was not always the case for women in Canada, but because of Carrie Best’s activism and trailblazing career, these limitations have been lifted and every Canadian, no matter their race or gender can put their power into words.
Born March 4th, 1903, Carrie Best (Prevoe) was raised in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in a household that prioritized the importance of education (McLeod 2016). Women of her time had few avenues of employment, even fewer for women of colour. After considering nursing and teaching in the United States, Best returned home to New Glasgow and married (Graham 1998). When Best heard about prejudicial and racist practices being enforced at the Roseland Theatre, she took the opportunity to evoke change through her words (McLeod 2016).
In 1946, she founded the Clarion, Nova Scotia’s first black newspaper, in which she wrote about a variety of topics, primarily black rights. By 1956, the paper had evolved to become The Negro Citizen and circulated nationally. When Viola Desmond faced the same segregative policy at the Roseland Theatre that spurred Best to create the Clarion, she supported Desmond wholeheartedly, writing pieces on the case and asking readers for their support to offset Desmond’s court costs. From 1952 – 1964, Best surpassed the societal limitations of her race and gender once again, broadcasting her own radio show, “The Quiet Corner”, that aired on four Maritime radio stations. After commenting on a principal’s racist remarks to The Pictou Advocate’s editor, she was hired to write “Human Rights” (Graham 1998). In this weekly column she used the power of her words for everyone, writing pieces on topics such as aboriginal rights and the importance of improving living conditions on reserves. With all of these accomplishments, Best also found the time to investigate and report a racist tax scam in New Glasgow and at age 74 wrote her autobiography. Best’s activism for the “underprivileged, regardless of race, colour, creed or sex, and particularly her own people of the black community” earned her the title of an Officer of the Order of Canada (McLeod 2016).
Simply by refusing to conform to the expectations of black women of her time, Carrie Best changed what it means to be a woman, and what a woman can become. Where there lacked outlets for her words to be spoken, she created them herself. She has made it possible for any Canadian woman to write, speak and be heard. Best broke the silence, and used the power of her words and voice to improve her community of New Glasgow and fight for the rights of those across Canada.
Her words, and how she used them continue to inspire today. As a Cappies Critic, I have had the opportunity to review high school theatre and have my reviews be published in the Ottawa Citizen. I accredit this opportunity to Carrie Best, because without her influence on Canadian journalism, I, a young woman, would not be able to publish my words or earn recognition as a critic and journalist. Carrie Best has made it possible for youth of any gender to continue her work, advocating for the Canadians who face discrimination or injustice.
As a white woman, I cannot speak to or empathize with the racism faced by Carrie Best and all those she advocated for, but my respect and gratitude is ineffable to the changes she made to our society. Simply by speaking her mind and embracing the power of her words, Carrie Best changed the course of women’s freedom to speak. We, as Canadians, must learn from Carrie Best: everyone has something to say, and that when a person is given the opportunity to speak, we all benefit. Canada is truly a cultural mosaic, and no matter a person’s race or gender we all deserve freedom of speech and the chance to contribute to the change we believe in.
“Biography.” Jean Augustine, www.jeanaugustine.ca/jean-augustine-bio/. Graham, DG. “Carrie Best.” a site about equality and equity in Canada, 25 Feb. 1998, section15.ca/features/people/1998/02/25/carrie_best/. McLeod, Susanna. “Carrie Best.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2 Oct 2016, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/.