In 1946, entrepreneur Viola Desmond refused to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre and was unjustly convicted of a tax violation used to enforce segregation. Desmond built a career as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture.
Desmond was born July 6, 1914, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to James Albert Davis and Gwendolin Irene (Johnson) Davis. Her father grew up in a middle-class black family and worked as a stevedore before becoming an established barber. Desmond’s mother was the daughter of a white minister. It was not uncommon for interracial mixing during the 20th century in Halifax, and her parents were highly regarded within the local Black community.
On November 8, 1946, Davis left on a business trip to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. While she was traveling, she experienced car trouble and had to have her vehicle repaired. She decided to catch a movie while waiting for her car at the local Roseland Theater. During this time, the theater had its own segregated rules: the main floor was for white patrons, and the balcony for black patrons. Canada was not known to have formal segregation laws, but individual provinces were able to determine and enforce their own unwritten policies.
Unaware of the segregation policy, Desmond proceeded to the main floor, but was quickly ordered by the manager to go to the balcony. Desmond refused, and the manager called the police. She was later ejected from the theater by policemen, which caused her to injure her hip. The following morning Desmond appeared before the local Magistrate, and she was convicted and fined $20.
Once word of her situation reached Halifax, the local African Canadian community raised funds to hire legal counsel for Desmond to get an appeal of her verdict. Members of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored people handled her case. Eventually, they were defeated and never challenged the court’s decision again. Eventually, Nova Scotia dismantled its segregation laws in 1954.