Creating A Brighter Future
Shadd once said, “It is better to wear out than rust out.”1 It may have been 200 years ago, but Mary Ann Shadd’s dedication and resilience in overcoming society’s hostility towards her race and gender remain a timeless source of inspiration. The Canada that we are proudly apart of today would not be possible without the brave black men and women who dared to stand boldly in a world that mercilessly condemned them for their skin colour. It is not our proudest moment in history, but these people’s lives and stories should not be tucked away nor forgotten. Born in 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware, and the oldest of thirteen children,2 Mary Ann Shadd is one such figure that has had a tremendous impact on our country. Although she grew up in America, she and her family fled to Canada in 1851 to escape the Fugitive Slave Act passed in the United States that “aided slave owners in recapturing their human property.”
Her legacy is one that was inspired by her father, Abraham Dory Shadd, and mother, Harriet Parnell Shadd3, who were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. Their house was a “stop” ( or safehouse) in the Underground Railroad2 and in 1859, her father became the first black man to hold a public office in Canada. Age was no limiting factor as the 58 year old was elected Councilor of Relagin, Ontario.4 In 2009, Canada Post honoured him with a memorial postal stamp4 for his passionate pursuit of equality. His refusal to accept slavery and colonialism as the societal norm was a model for many, including his eldest daughter.
When she fled to Ontario in 1851, Mary Ann Shadd soon began writing educational pamphlets such as A Plea for Emigration to educate blacks on the opportunities Canada had for their freedom.2 Within a year of settling in Windsor, Mary Ann Shadd opened a racially integrated school that enrolled black and white children alike3 - hence boldly defying the standard norm of having segregated schools. She provided a beacon of light in the waves of oppression when black children were commonly denied the opportunity of education, regardless free or slave.5 Although her strong opposition of segregated schools estranged her relations with the other prominent black activist leaders such as Henry Bibb2 and resulted in her losing funding for her school, she stood firm in her beliefs and continued pursuing a vision of true equality.
Thus in 1853, Shadd founded the anti-slavery newspaper The Provincial Freeman and was the first Black female publisher in North America. Her newspaper advocated women’s rights through broadcasting the lectures of renowned feminists such as Lucy Stone Blackwell; published articles from many influential black leaders such as James Madison Bell; and was unfazed by controversial topics.5 She also wrote many of the articles herself and attacked white and black actions alike, holding all accountable in creating a culture of dignity and mutual respect. Shadd condemned the practice of “begging” in which poor, downtrodden refugees earned funds and the negativity that surrounded the portrayal of blacks;5 instead, she dismantled the misrepresentations and addressed that many blacks quickly found work and rebuilt their life.5 Although the newspaper crumbled in 1860 due to financial pressures, Shadd continued pursuing political activism until her death in 1893 in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, her contributions were honored in 1994 when she gained the title of a Personal of National Historic Significance in Canada.4
Mary Ann Shadd encouraged blacks to rise above the waves of discrimination pushing against them; she reminded them that they were more than what society confined them to be, just as she herself, refused to let society dictate her identity and role as a black woman. As Shannon Prince, a distant relative of Shadd, said: “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.”6
Above all, I admire Shadd’s fiery, unwavering spirit - when she saw the discrimination that black people faced, she took action. She refused to bow to societal pressures or accept the societal norm; instead, she gave hope to change that reality. She knit one of the first threads to fabricate our multicultural heritage today, but the task is still unfinished. Yet the story of Mary Ann Shadd is one of the many that inspire us to shape Canada to have an even brighter future.
1 “Women in History - Mary Ann Shadd Cary.” Women In History Ohio, 2013, www.womeninhistoryohio.com/mary-ann-shadd-cary.html.
2 “Mary Ann Shadd.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd.
3 "Cary, Mary Ann Shadd 1823–1893.". “Cary, Mary Ann Shadd 1823–1893.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/mary-ann-shadd-cary.
4 “Shadd, Abraham Doras (1801-1882).” Boley, Oklahoma (1903- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, https://blackpast.org/gah/shadd-abraham-doras-1801-1882.
5 Shadd, Adrienne. “Common Menu Bar Links.” ARCHIVED - Daily Life: Shelter - Inuit - Explore the Communities - The Kids' Site of Canadian Settlement - Library and Archives Canada, 2008, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/northern-star/033005-2201-e.html
6 Pedro, Kelly. “Remember Me? Mary Ann Shadd Cary.” Edmonton Sun, 25 Oct. 2013, https://edmontonsun.com/2013/10/23/remember-me-mary-ann-shadd-cary/wcm/804aa5c6-0aa1-46dd-be80-9d7700b4c3ad