Community Organizing

AuthorAlan Borovoy
chapter five
Community Organizing
Among the objectives of any viable operation in race relations
is the creation of self-help organizations that are designed primarily
to serve the interests of some victimized minority group. During my
tenure there, the Labour Committee became involved in a couple of
such ventures.
The f‌irst one arose in the summer of 1962. Sid Blum asked me to go
to Halifax and meet with a group of black people from an area known as
Africville. Members of this group had written to Sid, complaining that,
in their dealings with the Halifax city government, they always got the
short end of the stick. So Sid asked me to try to provide whatever assist-
ance we could. I went there, not knowing what kind of help I could — or
should — offer these people.
I did know that the part of the country I was about to visit contained
proportionately the largest black population in Canada. We believed,
therefore, that there was likely to be proportionately more discrimina-
tion against them than would be found elsewhere. Despite the fact that
my knowledge of the area was limited and the nature of my mandate
was vague, I greeted my proposed trip with much enthusiasm.
A word about my f‌irst day there. Arriving in mid-August, I was met
early on by a well-respected member of the Halifax community, Lloyd
Shaw. I had learned that, despite his status as a successful businessman,
Lloyd had been involved for many years in social democratic politics.
“at the barricades”
Indeed, he was then on the national executive of the New Democratic
Party (NDP), as he had formerly served the CCF. My patrician socialist
host turned out to be very kind and gracious. He spent a considerable
period of time with me, and showed me the major sights of the city. I
should also note that his later contribution to Canadian social democ-
racy included his daughter, Alexa McDonough, who became the federal
leader of the NDP.
According to prearrangement, I was joined a little later by then Mac-
lean’s writer, David Lewis Stein, whom I had known from my camp
years. David was there to do a piece on the problems of Africville and
my role in trying to address them.
By another prearrangement, David and I went to Africville on the
morning of the day after my arrival in Halifax. The setting was hard to
imagine: dilapidated houses, no f‌lush toilets, and a sign over the well
warning people to boil the water before using it. About four or f‌ive Af-
ricville residents joined David and me in the home of Leon and Emma
Steed. Mrs. Steed was the person who wrote most of the letters to Sid
Blum that requested our presence there. It soon became apparent that
she was one of the principal leaders, at least of this group of Africville
residents. The possibility of relocation was very much on everyone’s
One of the f‌irst questions I asked of this group was, “Do you want
to move elsewhere?” One member of the group quickly replied, “Would
you want to live here?” No one in attendance evinced any disagreement
with this sentiment.
I thought, therefore, that it was important to create some kind of
organization that could help these people in their dealings with the
Halifax authorities. Such an organization might be able to provide a
certain amount of expertise and, more important, a source of pressure
for whatever negotiations might ensue and for whatever political de-
cisions had to be made. I also had it at the back of my mind that the
Labour Committee was interested in trying to develop some aff‌iliated
human rights organizations in such regions of the country. Perhaps, I
thought, it might be possible to create an organization that could serve
both of these functions.
Accordingly, I arranged for a meeting to be held in my hotel room
on the following evening. I invited the Africville people, along with a

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