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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Homegirl: Mary Ann Shadd

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Mary Ann Shadd
Thanks to Ontario writer/director Anthony Sherwood, I now know about a Delaware homegirl who paved the way for African-American female journalists and activists back in the nineteenth century. Sherwood, who produced The Mary Ann Shadd Play in Brampton earlier this year to give students an understanding of the contributions of people of African descent, featured student actors in the production, held in the Peel Region of Brampton. Sherwood said he chose that region because it has a 51 percent minority population.

Sherwood’s Website gives us the following information about Shadd, who accomplished some significant feats, including graduating from the Howard University School of Law in 1833 when she was 60 years old.

Check her out:

Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893) was born in Wilmington, Delaware of mixed African and European heritage to abolitionist Abraham Doras Shadd and Harriet Parnell. Shadd was an educator, editor, abolitionist, lawyer, social activist and one of the great fighters for women’s rights in North American history. In 1850, Shadd moved from Wilmington, Delaware to Canada to escape the Fugitive Slave Law of the United States. She settled in Windsor, Ontario and started the first integrated school in Canada. At that time, Canada was a segregated society. Shadd believed that separate churches, schools and communities for blacks would ultimately undermine the search for freedom. She campaigned for equality and integration for black people, making speeches and addressing issues of abolition and other reforms. Shadd’s support for racial integration embroiled her in many public disputes with both blacks and whites.

To help fight her critics, in 1853 Shadd started her own newspaper called The Provincial Freeman and thus became the first known black female newspaper publisher and editor in North America. The newspaper continued to be published until 1859 and was a strong proponent for temperance, moral reform, civil rights and black self-help while attacking the racial discrimination blacks faced in North America. It was one of the longest published black newspapers until the Civil War. A colleague of fellow abolitionist and publisher Frederick Douglass, Shadd was instrumental in assisting many runaway slaves to escape to Canada via the
Underground Railroad. Shadd was also a recruiting officer who recruited black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War.

A distinguished and gifted educator, Shadd established or taught in schools for blacks in various U.S. and Canadian cities, including: Wilmington, DE; Trenton, NJ; West Chester and Norriston, PA; New York, NY; Windsor, Ontario; Chatham, Ontario; and Detroit, MI. After the Civil War, Shadd moved to Washington, D.C., where she was the principal for various public high schools and wrote regularly for Frederick Douglass’s New National Era and other papers. 

In 1883 at age 60, Shadd graduated from Howard University School of Law and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar, and thus became one of the earliest black female lawyers in North America. Shadd fought for women’s rights all her life, joined the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, fought for such rights with suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and testified on such issues before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. She was also the first black woman to cast a vote in a national election in the U.S.

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