In recognition of International Archives Day, on June 9, 2016, North Sydney resident Wanda Robson will donate her collection of family documents to the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University. Ms. Robson is the youngest sister of civil rights icon Viola Desmond and her gift to the Beaton Institute includes photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and other important historic documents relating to her own and her sister Viola’s life.
“The Beaton Institute has significant African Nova Scotian holdings and Wanda’s gift will strengthen Cape Breton University’s position as an important center for African Nova Scotian and African Canadian Studies,” says Catherine Arseneau, Director of Cultural Resources,
Art Gallery and the Beaton Institute.
Cape Breton University has a special relationship with Wanda Robson and Viola Desmond. At the age of 77, Wanda graduated from CBU in 2004 after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2010, Wanda published Sister to Courage: Stories from the World of Viola Desmond, Canada’s Rosa Parks and has given numerous public and school presentations as well as interviews on local and national media. In 2012, she received an Honorary Doctorate from CBU for her extraordinary service to the community and for raising public awareness regarding the Viola Desmond story and the struggle for racial equality in Canada.
“I am delighted to be able to present the gift of my family documents to Cape Breton University,” says Robson. “I feel a special sense of loyalty to CBU for enabling me to pursue my dream of completing a university education. I hope my gift helps encourage further research and education regarding the African Canadian history and the struggle for racial equality in Canada.”
Largely as a result of Wanda’s efforts to raise public awareness, the Nova Scotia government granted, posthumously, a free pardon to Viola Desmond in 2010. This historic action was an effort to correct the injustice resulting from Viola’s wrongful arrest, in 1946, for courageously refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only section of the racially segregated theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Following Viola’s free pardon, the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice was created at CBU and Professor of History, Graham Reynolds was appointed as the first holder of this unique Chair. Dr. Reynolds has worked closely with Wanda Robson in raising public awareness and in conducting research. Earlier this year he published Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land (Fernwood Publishing, 2016).