Shadd’s Fight for Equal Rights: Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Imagine living in a world where all members of society have the same status, rights, and opportunities. This is a world Mary Ann Shadd Cary dreamt of living in. Canada’s cultural makeup resembles a mosaic as 19.1% of the population identifies themselves as a visible minority (“Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada”). Black Canadians are a minority whose actions have significantly impacted the culture of this country. Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a woman of African descent who relentlessly fought for equality as an educator, publisher, abolitionist, and a suffragette. Shadd’s considerable contributions to Canada’s heritage helped further the fulfillment of her dream.
Shadd was born in Delaware to free abolitionist parents - Abraham and Harriet Shadd. Despite being American, Shadd would later be recognized as a Person of National Historical Significance in 1994 for her addition to Canadian culture (Yarhi). In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed allowing for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the United States. Afraid of being wrongly accused and unable to prove their freedom, Shadd and her brother moved to Windsor, Ontario.
Shadd’s fight for equal rights grew in intensity when she moved to Windsor. She believed in and advocated for racial integration, an unpopular point of view in the 1800s. Shadd worked tirelessly to open a racially integrated school for underprivileged children as schools lacked public funding. The school opened with the financial help of the American Missionary Association, but was later shut down due to a public dispute between Shadd and two individuals who favored segregation - Henry and Mary Bibbs. As a result of this argument, Shadd lost the funding for her school. During her time as an educator, Shadd wrote informative booklets that promoted the advantages of Canada for settlers moving North. In a time where Black Americans lived in the shadow of the Fugitive Slave Act, Shadd worked hard to educate people about the haven in Canada. Although her school closed, Shadd resumed pursuing a career in education after working as a recruitment agent during the American Civil War. Shadd taught briefly in Detroit before acquiring a teaching position in Washington, DC. After a few years of teaching in the capital, she attended Howard University Law School. Shadd graduated as a lawyer in 1883, making her the second black female lawyer in the United States (“Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893)”).
In attempts to amplify her message, Shadd established a weekly newspaper named the Provincial Freeman to promote the successes of Black Americans living in Canada. Shadd feared that as a Black female she would not be taken seriously and sought the help of Samuel Ringgold Ward, an escaped enslaved person who lived in Toronto. Samuel agreed to co-edit the paper and publish his name in lieu of hers (Yarhi). Together they dedicated their time sharing the stories of freedom-seekers in hopes of inspiring more Black Americans to emigrate. The paper was first published in Windsor, and then later in Toronto and Chatham. The weekly publications of Shadd's paper made her one of the earliest female news journalists, and the first Black woman to establish a newspaper in North America. Rooted in her commitment to anti-slavery issues, Shadd devoted the paper to publishing pieces preaching the motto “Self-Reliance Is The True Road to Independence" (Yarhi). The Provincial Freeman was not only a glimmer of light in a dark time for many Black Americans, but became the main forum to discuss abolitionist strategies and an unignorable voice for the Black community.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was not only a Black American, but a Black female American. Passionate about equal rights in all categories, Shadd fought for women's rights in addition to racial rights. She worked alongside iconic suffragettes Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the women’s suffrage movement. Shadd’s tenacity kept her fighting as she joined the National Woman's Suffrage Association, and became the first Black woman to cast a vote in a national election (“Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893)”).
What inspires me most about Mary Ann Shadd Cary are not her significant accomplishments, but how she dedicated her life to improving others. Shadd is not only an inspiration to the Black community, but to all Canadians. She advocated for a world where regardless of gender or race, everyone is equal. Shadd fought for equality. Her bravery and tenacity against the war of prejudice and discrimination paved a path to inspire future generations of Canadians to follow in her footsteps.
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