Carrie Mae Best – Human Rights Activist, Author, Publisher, Broadcaster
Carrie Mae Best (née Prevoe), OC, LLD, human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher and broadcaster (born 4 March 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; died 24 July 2001 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia). Sparked by incidents of racial discrimination, Carrie Best became a civil rights activist. Co-founder of The Clarion, the first newspaper in Nova Scotia that was owned and published by Black Canadians, she used the platform to advocate for Black rights. As the editor, she publicly supported Viola Desmond in her case against the Roseland Theatre. Best used her voice in radio and print to bring positive change to society in Nova Scotia and Canada.
Carrie Mae Prevoe grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in an era of racial discrimination. Although discrimination in Canada was less pronounced than in the United States, it was just as damaging and humiliating. Prevoe and her two brothers were encouraged by their parents, James and Georgina (Ashe) Prevoe, to study the history of African-Canadians and be proud of their Black heritage. Although they had not received good schooling themselves, the Prevoes emphasized the importance of education.
An intelligent child, Prevoe wrote her first poems at the age of four and often submitted her opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers as a teenager. Unhappy with the racial stereotypes portrayed in popular books and local culture, Best sought out the work of African-American poets and historians.
Observing the calm strength and dignity of her mother, Prevoe knew from an early age that she would not accept the restrictions to which Blacks were subjected. Career choices for young women, in general, were limited, and even fewer options were available for non-white women. Prevoe considered nursing, but no Canadian schools accepted African-Canadians. She wasn’t interested in a teaching career in one of Nova Scotia’s segregated schools. And she refused to be a housekeeper for anyone other than herself.
Carrie married railway porter Albert Theophilus Best on 24 June 1925. They had one son, James Calbert Best, and later welcomed several foster children into their family: Berma, Emily, Sharon and Aubrey Marshall.
In December 1941, Carrie Best heard that several high school girls had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre. The Black teens had attempted to sit in the “white only” section. Best was outraged. She vigorously argued against the racist policy to the Roseland Theatre’s owner, Norman Mason, in person and by letter, but her argument fell on deaf ears. It was time for Best to go to the movies.
A few days later, the 38-year-old and her son, Calbert, attempted to purchase tickets for the main floor of the theater. The cashier issued tickets for the balcony, the area reserved for Black patrons. Leaving the tickets on the counter, the mother and son walked into the auditorium. When the assistant manager demanded that they leave, the Bests refused and the police were called. Roughly hoisted from her seat by the officer, Best and her son were charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. Best could now take legal action against the theater.
Filing a civil lawsuit that specified racial discrimination, Best claimed damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat and breach of contract. Mason and the Roseland Theatre Company Ltd. claimed that the Bests were trespassers without tickets. The case, heard on 12 May 1942, failed: the proprietor’s right to exclude anyone won out over the bigger issue of racism. The judge not only ignored the discrimination but also ordered Best to pay the defendant’s costs.
However, Best was not defeated. The persistent problems of racism and segregation would be publicly addressed by something arguably more powerful than the legal system: Best started a newspaper.
In 1946, Carrie Best and her son, Calbert, founded The Clarion, the first Nova Scotia newspaper owned and published by Black Canadians. Initially a 20- by 25-centimeter broadsheet, The Clarion reported on sports, news, social activities and other significant events. Incorporated in 1947, the paper placed emphasis on better race relations. For a decade, The Clarion covered many important issues and advocated for Black rights. In 1956, it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation.
* CBC News Canada http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/
* The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/