By RON FANFAIR
Facing a barrage of criticism from Black separatists for her beliefs in racial integration, Mary Ann Shadd Cary took the bold step to start a newspaper to promote temperance, moral reform and civil rights while attacking the racial intolerance that Blacks faced in North America.
The weekly newspaper – The Provincial Freeman – was published out of an office at 143 King St. E. for most of its six years of existence before folding in 1859.
At the Ontario Black History Society’s (OBHS) Black History Month launch last Sunday at the Old Mill, Heritage Toronto unveiled a plaque to recognize Shadd Cary’s significant contributions as North America’s first Black female publisher and an advocate of women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
The plaque will be located at the former publishing house site which is a stone’s throw away from St. Lawrence Hall which hosted the first convention of Coloured Freemen outside the United States in 1851.
“It’s not by accident that she’s been honoured here today,” said historian and curator Dr. Sheldon Taylor. “She’s been honoured because of who she was. Individuals such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary have not been highlighted to the extent that they should. I would argue that someone of her calibre, notwithstanding the fact that she’s from the 19th Century, has left an extremely rich body of work.”
Born a free Black woman in Delaware, she and her brother moved to Windsor after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that threatened free northern Blacks and escaped slaves to bondage. The trailblazer founded a racially integrated school and later joined forces with Samuel Ward to establish the weekly newspaper.
One of just 12 Blacks with National Historic Person designations in Canada, Shadd Cary was the second Black American woman to graduate from law school in 1883. She practiced law for the next decade until her death in June 1893 at the age of 69.
“We are really honoured that this plaque has come to fruition,” said curator and historian Adrienne Shadd, the great, great grandniece of Shadd Cary.
Canada’s rich Black history is also being promoted through Canada Post commemorative stamps honouring journalist Carrie Best, who died 10 years ago at age 98, and retired baseball pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.
Born in Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Best founded The Clarion – the first Black-owned and published Nova Scotia newspaper – and she started a popular radio show – The Quiet Corner – that aired for 12 years until 1964. She was also a columnist for The Pictou Advocate and a role model for generations of Black women.
“Carrie Best came into a world in which the odds were stacked against women of colour, yet she fought not only for her own rights but also for those of other women and minorities,” said Canada Post corporate communications specialist Keisha McIntosh-Siung who unveiled the stamps at the launch.
Kevin Best who, with his wife Arwa Mhawi helped unveil his grandmother’s stamp, said she deserves the recognition.
“This is a great honour and we have always been proud of her,” said the Toronto resident. “She was someone who fought for what she believed in and she was an extremely passionate woman.”
Jenkins, a three-time All-Star and National League Cy Young winner, is the only Canadian in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Both he and Best are members of the Order of Canada.
“We believe that these stamps are fitting tributes to these two remarkable Canadians,” said McIntosh-Siung. “They celebrate the accomplishments of two influential Black Canadians who have left an indelible mark on Canadian history.”
Best and Jenkins are the sixth and seventh Black Canadians to be recognized with Canada Post stamps.
Last year, William Hall – the first Black to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery in combat – was bestowed with the honour.
A millennium stamp bearing the image of Portia White – considered one of Canada’s greatest vocalists – was issued in 1999 while Canada Post rolled out a stamp to mark Oscar Peterson’s 80th birthday on August 15, 2005.
In 2009, Abraham Shadd and Rosemary Brown were honoured with commemorative stamps.
Peterson, who died in December 2007, was the first living Canadian to be honoured with a stamp for his monumental lifetime achievements.