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A makeshift cross in a part of Halifax once known as Africville on Wed., Feb. 24. The black neighbourhood was razed in the 1960s, an act the city apologized for on Wednesday.Tim Krochak

Police in Nova Scotia have arrested two young men after a weekend cross-burning incident, an act that shocked whites but reconfirmed for many blacks their nickname of the province as "the Mississippi of the North."

In a scene reminiscent of the Old South, a black man and a white woman living near Windsor woke to find a large flaming cross on their yard. A noose dangled from it and they could hear shouts of "die nigger die."

RCMP announced Wednesday that two people from the same area would face charges of public incitement of hatred, mischief and uttering threats.

The arrests of Nathan Neil Rehberg, 20, and Justin Chad Rehberg, 19, came the same day the city of Halifax moved to atone for the destruction of the black community of Africville in the 1960s.

Denied public services and their land encroached upon by a dump and slaughterhouse, residents were evicted and the community levelled to make way for a bridge development.

"The repercussions of what happened in Africville … haunt us," Mayor Peter Kelly acknowledged in a formal apology.

"They play out in the lingering feelings of hurt and distrust, emotions that this municipality continues to work hard with the African Nova Scotian community to overcome. For all these distressing consequences, we do apologize."

The words were warmly received, but some in the community are distressed the apology took so long. And they warn that the attitudes that gave rise to Africville have been too slow to change.

"I was not surprised whatsoever to hear about a cross-burning," said Coleman Howe, who was born in Africville.

"Nova Scotia, as far as I'm concerned, is still way behind in race relations. We're not taking the necessary steps to move forward to change that. We're still lagging. We're like somewheres in the vicinity of 25 to 30 years behind our times."

Tensions have been highlighted by a series ofincidents over the past few years.

The Black Loyalist Heritage Society in Shelburne was burned to the foundation, and firebombs were tossed at the office of Black Cultural Society for Nova Scotia in Preston. In Digby, a fracas between police and black youths sparked accusations of racism, and officers with Halifax Regional Police alleged systemic discrimination.

Carol Aylward, associate professor at Dalhousie Law School, warned that focusing on specific incidents can prevent recognition of the day-to-day reality faced by black Nova Scotians.

"The cross-burning is just an open sign of what is under the surface," she said. "Most people in the black community call Nova Scotia the Mississippi of the North."

Formerly segregated communities in the U.S. South have elected black mayors, noted Leslie Oliver, president of the Black Cultural Society for Nova Scotia, prompting him to question when that will happen here.

"Not that that's the standard, but when you look at the United States, they have made great strides, and I'm not just talking about their president," he said. "I refuse to believe our blacks are any less capable."

Frustrating activists, many whites say that racism is a problem that has been largely eradicated.

"That is one of the difficulties with racism," said Burnley (Rocky) Jones. "The person who is the victim sees it clearly, feels it. From outside, the observer questions why you feel that way."

In his apology on Wednesday, Mr. Kelly, the mayor, urged all residents to leave aside the divisions of the past.

"Our history cannot be rewritten but, thankfully, the future is a blank page and, starting today, we hold the pen with which we can write a shared tomorrow," he said.

The city's apology comes as part of a contentious agreement with the Africville Genealogy Society to fund a memorial church at the site.

"Our fight has just started," said Eddie Carvery, who has been camped out at the site for decades. "We'll fight for our individual compensation, we will fight for a public inquiry. Thank you for the apology. Accepted. Two more to go."