A new podcast about one of Halifax’s ancient black communities seeks to shed a different light on history by featuring defenders fighting to return the land to their descendants.
Co-hosts Alfred Burgesson and Eddy Carvery III are the minds behind the five-part series, titled Africaville forever.
The series takes listeners through the history of Africville and some of the personalities who have fought for its recognition over the past decades.
“We felt that as a new generation, we had to find a way to turn this story into something relevant, something for the [listeners] today to be able to grab and grab and maybe learn something,” Carvery said.
Located at the northern end of the Halifax Peninsula, Africville was a predominantly black community of approximately 400 residents. It was officially settled by William Brown and William Arnold when they purchased the land in the 1840s, according to city data, although some families said they could trace their lineage back to the 1700s.
Africville was known as a thriving community, with a school, church, and local shops, although homes in the area lacked sewage systems and access to clean water. It was designated “industrial land” in the late 1940s, which led to the development of an infectious disease hospital and community jail. The municipal landfill was also moved near Africville in the 1950s.
In the early 1960s, Halifax City Council set out to remove housing and other structures in the area for what is known as “urban renewal”. And from the mid-1960s to the end of the decade, the city purchased the land, moved Africville residents to locations in Halifax, and bulldozed existing structures.
In its place today is a large park and museum in a replica church.
Most of the podcast series were recorded in a studio, although the co-hosts took the time to travel to Africville to record audio there. Carvery said he thought it helped give audiences a richer sense of the place’s history.
Over the course of the series, the two talk to local activists, including Carvery’s grandfather, Eddie Carvery, a longtime civil rights activist who protests from a trailer on the grounds of Africville to this day.
The podcast artwork was created by another resident with ties to the community. Halifax-based artist Vanessa Thomas, whose grandmother lived in Africville, said she wanted to show the community’s struggle in the past and hope for the future through her art.
The church in Africville is the focal point of the room.
“I feel like most black communities in Nova Scotia, the church is the center of communities where people go to experience joy and sorrow,” she said.
“Around [are] … abstract illustrations of two different sides of the story; one is the fight for justice and the sadness of it all, and the other side is the strength of community.”
Thomas added that she was honored to be part of the project, given her personal connection to the community, and that the podcast was a great opportunity to spread Africville’s story beyond Nova Scotia and even from Canada.
Burgesson echoed the sentiment and said he and Carvery wanted to bring a sense of urgency to the fight for the community.
“People often tend to talk about Africville as something from the past, and we wanted to have this podcast to talk about it in the past, but also in the present and the future,” Burgesson said.
“We realized going into this realm that yeah, we’re basically creating season 1. A five part series is definitely not long enough to have the full extent of what happened and what’s going on But it’s sort of a jumping off point…for more dialogue through this brand and podcast of Africaville forever.”
Outside of the podcast, the couple said there are plans to launch a “community vision” process for Africville that will allow former residents and descendants to share their thoughts on what a new Africville might look like.
In the meantime, as more people tune in, the hope is that the series will encourage listeners to hold Halifax accountable to make real change in the lives of descendants.
“The biggest takeaway that I hope people will understand is that it’s possible to hear these stories for each individual to be a catalyst for change,” Carvery said. “And as long as that happens, well, we can live Africville, forever.”
Burgesson said he felt the story of Africville and its defenders spoke to a larger story about the racism black people in Canada continue to face.
“African Nova Scotians and black people in Africville not having access to these lands like theirs have held back generations of African Nova Scotians,” Burgesson said.
“I hope people realize that stories like this have a lot to do with the situation we find ourselves in today in society and that something can still be done. This is not a history that belongs to the past or history – it is something that we can still do something about today.
“And so I hope the listeners believe it too.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.