Celebrating Mary Ann Shadd, Canada's First Black Female Newspaper Publisher
In his distinctive "Afrofuturist" style he's re-imagining a portrait of the American-born Shadd who worked and lived in Canada during the 1850s -60s. Mary Ann Shadd was a person of many hats, a writer and publisher of the Provincial Freeman newspaper, anti-slavery abolitionist, temperance movement promoter, educator, promoter of Black self-sufficiency and integration advocate and also a lawyer. It's hard to fathom how many glass ceilings she smashed in her time (and while raising two children!). If you would like to see a copy of The Provincial Freeman from August 26, 1854 please see here at the Ontario Community Newspaper Portal.
It makes sense that Adeyemi Adegbesan's mural is on Mackenzie's house as he too was an important and early local Toronto/Ontario newspaper publisher. One of the pleasures of this house museum is the 1840s era printing press and staff who know how to use it. And, just in case you're worried about the historical building, the mural itself is on vinyl.
You can hear Adegbesan talk about the project in this YouTube video:
Mary Ann Shadd came to Canada in the 1850s in response to the American political situation and the unsafe conditions for Blacks in the USA. She wrote a pamphlet, seen below in an original version, held in the Toronto Reference Library, where she encouraged Black Americans to emigrate to Canada rather than go to Africa, making the case Canada was healthier and better for them. It's interesting to read her writings and glowing description of life in Upper Canada West in the 1850s and in particular her positive views of Toronto. She was strongly integrationist and felt separate communities like Elgin or Buxton, while successful, did not serve their community members the best. This put her at odds with many influential Abolitionists in Canada at the time. You can read her pamphlet online as a PDF here.
This is the last page from her pamphlet above that summarizes her positive views of Canada
Mary Ann Shadd eventually moved to Upper Canada West (essentially Ontario) and was most influential in founding an Abolitionist and Temperance newspaper called the Provincial Freeman (making her North America's first Black female newspaper publisher). See here for examples of the actual newspaper from an online resource.
Here's the Prospectus from the cover page of a microfilm copy of the paper from the Toronto Reference Library (note M. A. Shadd Publishing Agent).
If you're interested in more information about Mary Ann Shadd then you'll enjoy these items.
"Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a courageous and outspoken 19th-century African American who used the press and public speaking to fight slavery and oppression in the United States and Canada. Her life provides a window on the free black experience, emergent black nationalisms, African Americans' gender ideologies, and the formation of a black public sphere." There is also a similar title you may be interested in with additional information on Shadd and placing her in context among other writers and newspapers of her era Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print.
From the back cover "Shadd was the first black woman on the North American continent to found and edit a weekly newspaper, publishing The Provincial Freeman in Windsor, Toronto and Chatham ... during the 1850s. An early and vigorous advocate of women's rights and abolition, she was one of the very first black women to lecture in public ... Mary spent a lifetime as an educator, founding several schools and serving as a teacher and principal in public schools.... She was almost certainly the only woman to be commissioned as a Recruiting Officer during the American Civil War. She was Howard University's first woman law student and one of the very few black women of the 19th century to practice law, beginning her career at the age of 60!"
"Places African Canadian women's lived experiences, identities, and histories at the centre of Canada's past. This collection of original research edited by leading scholars in the field encourages readers to interrogate the idea of Canada as a "Promised Land" by examining the rich and varied history of African Canadian women. The nine chapters span the period from slavery and abolition through to late 20th-century activism. This interdisciplinary collection draws on existing research from cultural studies, literary studies, communications, and visual culture to reframe familiar figures in African Canadian women's history, such as feminist Mary Ann Shadd and civil rights activist Viola Desmond, in the wider African diaspora."
"A dramatic recreation of the story of Mary Ann Shadd, an abolitionist, suffragete and integrationist. Living in Windsor, Ontario, she fought for integrated education, battled segregationists and started the first integrated school in Canada. She later became the first female newspaper editor and the first black female attorney in North America."
From the back cover "Mary Ann Shadd encouraged Black people to become self-sufficient through her teaching, speaking and writing. Her activities to assist Black people made a significant difference during a period of history (1850s-1890s) in both Canada and the United States that cried out for leadership." You might also be interested in this title, which is not held by the Library, Demanding Justice A Story About Mary Ann Shadd Cary.
"Within the pages of American history are the stories of remarkable African American women who have defied the odds, taken a stand for justice, and made incredible strides despite opposition from the culture around them. Now young readers can discover their exciting true stories in this eye-opening collection. From well-known figures like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks to women rarely found in any history book (including Mary Ann Shadd!), Women in Black History explores the lives of writers, athletes, singers, activists, and educators who have made an indelible mark on our country and our culture. Perfect for kids, but also for adults who like to read about important figures and unsung heroes, this collection will delight, surprise, and challenge readers." Although it doesn't include Mary Ann Shadd, readers may also be interested in this similar title for children Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
- Overlooked No More: How Mary Ann Shadd Cary Shook Up the Abolitionist Movement (New York Times)
- How North America’s First Black Female Publisher Saw the ‘Road to Independence' (TVO Ontario)
- Mary Ann Shadd (The Canadian Encyclopedia)
- Mary Ann Shadd (The Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
- Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Lawyer, Educator, Suffragist (US Library of Congress)
- Mary Ann Shadd Cary (Noire Histoir Black History Short (includes video)
- Here's Why a Portrait of a Black Woman Just Appeared on the Side of a Toronto Building (blogTO)
- Black History Month (City of Toronto resources)
- Ontario Black History (Multicultural Ontario)
These are some other Toronto Public Library Blogs that may interest you about Black Canadians and Americans
- The Herb Carnegie Story: Canada's First Professional Black Hockey Player
- In Memoriam: Bromley Armstrong, Black Civil Rights and Trade Union Activist
- "Black Like Me": Celebrating Black History Month with Photography
- I Have Been to the Mountaintop: The Speeches and Writings of Martin Luther King
- Viola Desmond, Black Canadian Civil-Rights Pioneer
- Viola Desmond, Activist, Entrepreneur and a Face That You Will be Seeing Around
- Bob Marley's Redemption Song - the Canadian connection
- Speaking of the Black Panthers ...... Beyoncé Ain't No Angela Davis
- Black History Month 2021: Amazing Inventors and Inventions
- Black History Month 2021: Historic Black Canadians
You may also be interested to know about our Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection. This collection features over 16,000 print and audiovisual materials for adults, children, and teens about the Black and Caribbean historical and cultural experience – with a special emphasis on Canadian content. The material covers history, social science, and the contributions and achievements of Blacks in Canada. The collection also includes a small selection of titles about world figures in Black history and culture.
Recognized as one of the most significant Black and Caribbean heritage collections in Canada, it is an invaluable resource for the Black and Caribbean community as well as students and researchers.
Formats available include:
- Print: fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and periodicals
- Large Print
- Digitized content
The collection is available at four branches across the city: