In Canada, many Black people have historically advocated for human rights for themselves and others, using the power of literature to express their views on the subject. In honor of Black History Month, we want to feature a special person who used her voice to advocate not only for freedom from slavery, but also for equality in education for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary (October 9, 1823 – June 5, 1893) was born in Wilmington, Delaware; this particular state was one where it was allowed to own slaves as property. She was the eldest of 13 children born to free Black parents. When she was ten years old, her parents moved to Pennsylvania so that she could be educated at a Quaker boarding school. When she got older, she established a school for Black children in her hometown. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the United States in 1850, she moved with her family to a place called Sandwich (now known as Windsor, Ontario). She established the first Black newspaper, “The Provincial Freeman” in 1853, with the slogan reading, “Devoted to antislavery, temperance, and general literature”. Their head offices were located on King Street East, Toronto. While she was not credited on the masthead, she was responsible for managing all aspects of the paper, from writing to typesetting to publication. It was published in Toronto, Windsor, and Chatham; however, the paper folded in 1860 due to financial pressures.
After this occurrence and the death of her husband, she returned to the United States to act as a recruiting officer for Union soldiers. She also continued to teach and educate children in local public schools. After that, she attended the Howard University School of Law and graduated at the age of 60 in 1883, becoming the second Black person to obtain a law degree. She died in Washington, DC and is interred at Colombian Harmony Cemetery. In 1994 Canada recognized her as a person of National Historic Significance; there was even a Google Doodle about her on October 9, 2020 in honor of her 197th birthday.
We should take the time to reflect the efforts of men and women like Mary Ann Shadd to call for emancipation and freedom for all people, both now and in the future.
Figure 1: Photo of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, date unknown. [Photo Credit: Library & Archives Canada, Item ID # 3191895].