Afua Cooper writes about Black marginalization following 1917 Halifax Explosion
After more than a century, the Halifax Explosion remains a visceral reminder of an explosion that flattened a huge part of the city, killing over 1,600 people. The anniversary of the catastrophe is mark by various activities each year on 6th December.
incident occurred during World War II when two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour. One ship, the Mont-Blanc, which was headed for Europe loaded with munitions, set off one of the largest explosion at the time.
Despite the thousands of stories written on the subject, Dalhousie Professor Dr. Afua Cooper, wrote a book-length poem titled The Halifax Explosion: 6 December 1917, At 9:05 In the Morning. “Because,” says Cooper, “I realized that the Black experience of the explosion was either denied or marginalized.”
Africville, which was located close to Harbour, “was ravaged, and many buildings were damaged,” writes Dr. Cooper. “For years after the blast, the myth that Africville had escaped the disaster was perpetuated, despite there being four recorded deaths. One death recorded was of an eight-year-old girl who died inside her house during the explosion.”
The Disaster Relief Commission denied help to victims because of their race. So, it was the heroic efforts and selfless actions of others in the African Nova Scotian community that helped others to recover from the blast.
An impressive example of this was Clement Ligoure, a Black doctor from Trinidad. Dr. Ligoure, worked for three days without much sleep, food or drink while treating the sick and the dying. Over that time, he tended to over 200 patients. And he did this all for free.
Ironically, Ligoure did this while running his own private hospital, which he founded because he was denied privileges in the city’s hospitals on the basis of his colour.
In addition to the poem, the 36-page book also includes a historical note along with a map showing the area of “total destruction.” This addendum offers further insight into both the unfairness of how African Nova Scotians were treated after the disaster and the public’s lack of awareness about its impacts on Africville where many of them lived at the time.
The Halifax Explosion: 6 December 1917, At 9:05 In the Morning is published by Plumleaf Press and is available on Amazon.