Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Africville hiring stirs up racial controversy

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HALIFAX -- The hiring of a white woman as executive director of the Africville Heritage Trust, a body created to redress the destruction of a Halifax-area black community in the 1960s, has generated a polarizing debate on race.

Burnley (Rocky) Jones, a Halifax lawyer and human rights activist, is calling for the dismissal of Carole Nixon after she was recently hired to help oversee the trust.

Jones said he believes the hiring process was flawed because the job wasn't widely advertised and that Nixon's hiring ignored the sensitivities of some in the local black community.

"How could a white woman from Ontario be able to explain what we would go through growing up as a black person in Africville, facing the kind of racism and degradation the people had to live through?" said Jones.

"It's impossible for anyone without that experience to interpret that."

Jones said he thinks the ramifications of Nixon's hiring were not fully thought through, and that the position should be reposted for black candidates only.

"What message does a hiring such as this send to our kids that are looking for opportunity and leadership positions in our community?"

The trust was set up to establish a memorial to Africville, a black community situated in Halifax's north end that was set up by former slaves in the early 1800s on the shore overlooking Bedford Basin.

It was torn down in the 1960s on the orders of municipal officials to clear the way for the construction of a new bridge across Halifax harbour as part of an urban renewal initiative.

The executive director's job, which pays $66,000 annually, is to fundraise and manage development of a church and an interpretive centre on the site.

"Here's Africville. They struggled for years. They finally get a bit of a settlement and who gets the job? No one in the community," said Jones.

Nixon, an Anglican priest with a university certificate in black history, was hired by the trust's board of directors, six of whom have roots in Africville. She said she planned to see the job through.

She said she doesn't take calls for her to step down personally because she understands the emotional devastation racism has caused.

"I understand that the pain will bubble up from time to time, but for the sake of one's health and well-being one has to find a way to move on from it," said Nixon.

"We're surrounded by racism of one form or another and one could even say that this is reverse discrimination where I'm being penalized because I'm white."

Nixon, who previously served as a parish priest in Shelburne, N.S., said she applied for the position while living in Toronto by responding to a posting on a not-for-profit job sector website.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2011 A7

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