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Remember me? Mary Ann Shadd Cary

By Kelly Pedro, The London Free Press

A teacher, lawyer and North America’s first known black woman to publish a newspaper.

Not much stood in Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s way, as she unapologetically blazed her own trail in the anti-slavery movement that saw the fiery woman speak out against segregation for blacks in Canada.

In Chatham, Ont., a bronze bust and historical plaque marks Shadd Cary’s sweeping contribution to Canadian history.

Nearby in Buxton, a settlement pioneered by escaped slaves, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum has her printing press on display.

When historians talk about women in the Underground Railroad, Shadd Cary’s name is spoken in the same breath as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

At times controversial, Shadd Cary was born free in Delaware, but headed north to Canada after the U.S. passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

In border-city Windsor in 1851, she arrived to teach school but — vehemently opposed to racial separation — refused to push a segregated education.

It was through self-reliance and assimilation that freedom was achieved, she believed, and when she started the Provincial Freeman newspaper in 1853, those values became the newspaper’s tenets.

That stance conflicted with rival publisher Henry Bibb of the Voice of the Fugitive, and the two engaged in a bitter battle that led to Shadd Cary’s firing as a school teacher.

Since women weren’t supposed to be outspoken, never mind own and operate newspapers, Shadd Cary hid her control of the paper behind her brother Isaac and other men in the abolitionist movement.

“It was one of those taboo things for a female, let alone a black female, to be so well accomplished in that time period,” said Shannon Prince, curator an Underground Railroad-era national historic site in Kent County and a distant relative of Shadd Cary.

The Provincial Freeman published until 1860, just before the U.S. Civil War broke out, and Shadd Cary soon returned to the U.S. to recruit northern blacks for war. She later fought for the right to vote for black women, and in 1860 helped organize a campaign in Washington to allow black women to invest their money so they wouldn’t become financially dependent on men.

“She played many, many roles. She was just someone who wanted to make a change to make it better for everyone,” said Prince.

Shadd Cary also became the first woman to attend Howard University’s law school, launching — and winning — a lawsuit against the school for sexual discrimination. Obtaining her law degree in 1881, she left teaching to practice law until she died.

kelly.pedro@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @KellyatLFPress

 

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Youth:

Born: Oct. 9, 1823 to a free black family in Wilmington, Del., then a slavery state, she was educated in a Quaker school that stressed universal fellowship, the evils of slavery and the value of learning.

Finest hour:

North America’s first known black woman to own and operate a newspaper, the Provincial Freeman in Ontario, she ran fiery articles about abolition and women’s rights and staunchly opposed segregation of any kind, insisting it only reinforced racism. Integration, she pushed instead.

Canada calls:

Invited to open a school in Windsor, Ont., she wouldn’t promote segregated education and was paid half what she wanted. Her ideology led to a bitter battle with Henry Bibb, who ran the abolitionist newspaper Voice of the Fugitive. Bibb’s influence led to her school’s closing.

Another first: First African American woman to attend Howard University law school; left teaching to practice law until she died.

 

A trailblazer on many paths

See the video at canoe.ca/rememberme

Quote:

“She has left a rich legacy because she was a trailblazer for so many, many things — not only women’s rights, but just in general, the rights of people at large,” said Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, near Chatham, and a distant relative of Shadd Cary.

 

Timeline:

1823: Born to a free black family in Delaware.

1833: Family moves to Pennsylvania for better education.

1839: Returns to Wilmington, Del., to open a school for blacks.

1849: Publishes Hints to the Coloured People of the North, a pamphlet pushing assimilation for freedom and equality.

1851: Moves to Windsor, Ont., where black community invites her to start a school.

1853: Starts Provincial Freeman newspaper to encourage black equality.

1855: Moves newspaper to nearby Chatham, home to large black population.

1860: Newspaper closes; husband Thomas Cary dies while she’s pregnant.

1867: Moves to Washington, D.C.; becomes first black woman to attend Howard University law school.

1881: Awarded law degree


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