Tatiana Kelly The RBC Black History Month Student Essay Competition December 1, 2017
Carrie Knows Best: One Woman’s Fight for Racial Equality
“Brown people, Mommy! Brown people!”
The year was 1970. My father, four years old at the time, tugged on his mother’s hand, exclaiming in wonder. Two black women had just walked through the doors of the bustling dining room of the Halifax hotel. The Prince Edward Island born boy had never before seen skin of a different colour, and curiosity took over him. Slightly embarrassed by her son’s words, his mother hushed him with a sharp, “Shh shh.em>”
The two women overheard these remarks and came to the table. These women were not angered or offended by the occurrence, but rather saw this as an opportunity to teach an important lesson about race. One of the women told my grandmother to never hush children when they said something like that, as it can lead them to believe that the subject was something to be ashamed of. The woman who spoke was instantly recognized by my grandmother as Carrie Best, the well-known black activist of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
Later that same day, my family ran into Carrie Best once again, at a clothing store. With lingering embarrassment, my grandmother apologized for her earlier reaction. Best then proceeded to tell the young child a story. “God made flowers in a lot of different colours. A bouquet of many colours is prettier than if the flowers are all one colour; so it is with people. That is why God made people of different colours.”1
Born on March 4th, 1903, Best lived through a time of racial discrimination. While not necessarily written in law, many public places segregated their services between black and white customers, sometimes refusing service based on race2. Best, and other activists of her generation, fought by way of their actions for human rights in Canada.
In December of 1941, Best took a stand for black equality. Upon hearing that several black teens had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre in her home town of New Glasgow, Best took her son and bought tickets for the main seating area of the theatre. This area was deemed to be the “white only” section, while the inferior seating in the balcony was designated for blacks. After being refused their desired tickets, Best and her son defiantly continued to their chosen seats in the “white only” section. Best defied the demands of the theater manager, challenging the social norm. Soon enough, the police arrived, and removed Best by force, charging her with disturbing the peace. Best took legal action, and although she did not win her case, she continued to fight for civil rights and racial equality.3
This act of rebellion placed momentum on the movement for human rights and racial equality. In 1946, Viola Desmond took similar action at the very same theatre. Desmond paid the price of arrest and a twenty dollar fine4. Carrie Best heard of this incident, and did what she could to spread word of Desmond’s case through her self-published newspaper, The Clarion. Best continued to raise awareness of such social injustices in the years to follow, through the writing of a human rights column as well as her own radio show5. Carrie Best received several awards and distinctions, including the Order of Canada in 1974, in recognition of her efforts in the development of racial relations.6
People like Carrie Best and Viola Desmond, who were willing to take a stand for equality despite the consequences, improved Canadian society by guiding it toward inclusiveness. As Daniel G. Hill, a Canadian human rights specialist and black Canadian historian wrote, “the concept of cultural pluralism has been fostered in the belief that a society becomes stronger and is enriched by the diverse peoples existing side by side within a nation.”7
Carrie Best fought to eliminate racial discrimination not only through the public media, but also through personal encounters, as with my young father. Best’s vision and fight for racial equality changed Canadian society to one of inclusion and acceptance. Carrie Best sowed the seeds for Canada to become “a bouquet of many colours.”8
1. Florence Kelly, “Meeting Carrie Best” (Personal Journal, 2001).
2. Howard Palmer and Leo Driedger, "Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada," The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed November 29, 2017, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/prejudice-and-discrimination/.
3. Susanna McLeod, "Carrie Best." The Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed November 29, 2017, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/.
4. "How Civil Rights Icon Viola Desmond Helped Change Course of Canadian History," CBC News, accessed November 29, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/viola-desmond-bio-1.3886923.
5. "1940s - 150 Years of Remarkable Nova Scotians," Nova Scotia Museum, accessed November 29, 2017, https://museum.novascotia.ca/blog/1940s-150-years-remarkable-nova-scotians.
6. "Civil rights activist Carrie Best - CBC Archives," CBC News, accessed November 29, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/civil-rights-activist-carrie-best.
7. Daniel G. Hill, Human Rights in Canada: A Focus on Racism (Canadian Labour Congress, 1988), 2.
8. Kelly, 2001
"1940s - 150 Years of Remarkable Nova Scotians." Nova Scotia Museum. March 25, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017. https://museum.novascotia.ca/blog/1940s-150-years-remarkable-nova-scotians.
"Civil rights activist Carrie Best - CBC Archives." CBC News. March 09, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/civil-rights-activist-carrie-best.
Hill, Daniel G., and Marvin Schiff. Human Rights in Canada: A Focus on Racism. Ottawa: Canadian Labour Congress, 1988.
"How Civil Rights Icon Viola Desmond Helped Change Course of Canadian History." CBC News. December 08, 2016. Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/viola-desmond-bio-1.3886923.
Kelly, Florence. Personal Journal (Meeting Carrie Best). 2001. MS, Stratford, PEI.
McLeod, Susanna. "Carrie Best." The Canadian Encyclopedia. February 10, 2016. Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/.
Palmer, Howard, and Leo Driedger. "Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia. February 10, 2011. Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/prejudice-and-discrimination/.