Black History Month In Canada… Carrie Mae Best

Carrie Mae Best was born in Nova Scotia where she dedicated her life to the improvement of race relations in her province and Canada.

Carrie Mae Best – Human Rights Activist, Author, Publisher, Broadcaster

Carrie Mae Best (née Prevoe), OC, LLD, human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher and broadcaster (born 4 March 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; died 24 July 2001 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia). Sparked by incidents of racial discrimination, Carrie Best became a civil rights activist. Co-founder of The Clarion, the first newspaper in Nova Scotia that was owned and published by Black Canadians, she used the platform to advocate for Black rights. As the editor, she publicly supported Viola Desmond in her case against the Roseland Theatre. Best used her voice in radio and print to bring positive change to society in Nova Scotia and Canada.

Carrie Mae Prevoe grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in an era of racial discrimination. Although discrimination in Canada was less pronounced than in the United States, it was just as damaging and humiliating. Prevoe and her two brothers were encouraged by their parents, James and Georgina (Ashe) Prevoe, to study the history of African-Canadians and be proud of their Black heritage. Although they had not received good schooling themselves, the Prevoes emphasized the importance of education.

An intelligent child, Prevoe wrote her first poems at the age of four and often submitted her opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers as a teenager. Unhappy with the racial stereotypes portrayed in popular books and local culture, Best sought out the work of African-American poets and historians.

Observing the calm strength and dignity of her mother, Prevoe knew from an early age that she would not accept the restrictions to which Blacks were subjected. Career choices for young women, in general, were limited, and even fewer options were available for non-white women. Prevoe considered nursing, but no Canadian schools accepted African-Canadians. She wasn’t interested in a teaching career in one of Nova Scotia’s segregated schools. And she refused to be a housekeeper for anyone other than herself.

Carrie married railway porter Albert Theophilus Best on 24 June 1925. They had one son, James Calbert Best, and later welcomed several foster children into their family: Berma, Emily, Sharon and Aubrey Marshall.

In December 1941, Carrie Best heard that several high school girls had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre. The Black teens had attempted to sit in the “white only” section. Best was outraged. She vigorously argued against the racist policy to the Roseland Theatre’s owner, Norman Mason, in person and by letter, but her argument fell on deaf ears. It was time for Best to go to the movies.

A few days later, the 38-year-old and her son, Calbert, attempted to purchase tickets for the main floor of the theater. The cashier issued tickets for the balcony, the area reserved for Black patrons. Leaving the tickets on the counter, the mother and son walked into the auditorium. When the assistant manager demanded that they leave, the Bests refused and the police were called. Roughly hoisted from her seat by the officer, Best and her son were charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. Best could now take legal action against the theater.

Filing a civil lawsuit that specified racial discrimination, Best claimed damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat and breach of contract. Mason and the Roseland Theatre Company Ltd. claimed that the Bests were trespassers without tickets. The case, heard on 12 May 1942, failed: the proprietor’s right to exclude anyone won out over the bigger issue of racism. The judge not only ignored the discrimination but also ordered Best to pay the defendant’s costs.

However, Best was not defeated. The persistent problems of racism and segregation would be publicly addressed by something arguably more powerful than the legal system: Best started a newspaper.

In 1946, Carrie Best and her son, Calbert, founded The Clarion, the first Nova Scotia newspaper owned and published by Black Canadians. Initially a 20- by 25-centimeter broadsheet, The Clarion reported on sports, news, social activities and other significant events. Incorporated in 1947, the paper placed emphasis on better race relations. For a decade, The Clarion covered many important issues and advocated for Black rights. In 1956, it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation.

Carrie Best slide with brief biographical information
(University Settlement)

* CBC News Canada                                                                http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                       http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/carrie-best/

Black History Month In Canada… Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born free in Delaware played an important role in the Underground Railroad in Windsor and Chatham, Canada West / Ontario.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary – Educator, Publisher, and Abolitionist

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). The first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada, Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

Born to free parents in Delaware, a slave state, Mary Ann Shadd was the eldest of 13 children. She was educated by Quakers and later taught throughout the northeastern United States, including New York City. Following in the footsteps of her activist parents, whose home was a safe house (or “station”) on the Underground Railroad, Shadd pursued community activism upon settling in Canada.

On 10 September 1851, at St. Lawrence Hall, Shadd attended the first North American Convention of Coloured Freemen held outside of the United States. The event was presided over by Henry Bibb, Josiah Henson, J.T. Fisher, as well as other prominent figures, and was attended by hundreds of Black community leaders from all over Canada, the northern United States, and England. Many Convention delegates encouraged enslaved Americans and refugees from enslavement to enter Canada. The year before, the United States had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners to recapture escaped enslaved persons in states where enslavement had been abolished.

At the Convention, Henry and Mary Bibb, activists and publishers of the newspaper Voice of the Fugitive, met and convinced Shadd to take a teaching position near their home in Sandwich (now Windsor), Canada West. After settling there in 1851, Shadd set up a racially integrated school that was open to all who could afford to attend (education was not publicly provided at that time). The school was opened with financial support from the American Missionary Association.

Shadd wrote educational booklets that outlined the advantages of Canada for settlers moving north, including A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West (1852). About this time, Shadd, who opposed segregated schools for Black children, engaged in a heated debate with Henry and Mary Bibb, who favored segregation. The dispute informed many editorials written by the Bibbs and Shadd in Voice of the Fugitive. As a result of the public dispute, Shadd lost funding from the American Missionary Association for her school.

An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 freedom-seekers — born free or enslaved — reached Canada through the Underground Railroad. In 1850, over 35,000 Black persons lived in Canada West. To promote emigration to Canada, Shadd publicized the successes of Black persons living in freedom in Canada through The Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper first printed on 24 March 1853. This made Shadd the first Black woman in North America to publish a newspaper, and one of the first female journalists in Canada. “Self-Reliance Is the True Road to Independence” was the paper’s motto.

Co-edited by Samuel Ringgold Ward, a well-known public speaker and escaped enslaved person living in Toronto, the paper was published from Windsor (1853–1854), Toronto (1854–1855) and Chatham (1855–1857). While Ward was listed as editor on the paper’s masthead, Shadd did not list her own name or take any credit for articles written by her, thus concealing the paper’s female editorship. By 1860, the paper had succumbed to financial pressure and folded.

After spending the first few years of the American Civil War as a schoolteacher in Chatham, Shadd returned to the United States and began work as a recruitment agent for the Union Army. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked as a teacher. Years after, Shadd pursued law studies at Howard University and in 1883 became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree.

The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd
The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd (Kentake Page)

Note About This Image:

In response to the growing tensions surrounding slavery, Canadian members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference formally established Chatham’s BME (Black Methodist Episcopal) Church in 1856. On this site, American Abolitionist John Brown held his initial meeting to gain supporters for his attack on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Also, the fight to end segregation in Chatham schools was led by a minister from this church. In 1983, the church was designated a heritage building by the City of Chatham due to its significance as one of the earliest religious institutions owned and governed by former slaves who escaped to and settled in Canada. In 1989, the BME Church was demolished due to disrepair. The lot was vacant until the establishment of the BME Park in 2009. Chatham – Canada West/Ontario – is located 83 km (52 miles) east of Windsor.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                  http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                 http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA2Y_UBRCGARIsALglqQ1EfTVAs6lx_QKPGjSlXdiTNiHiz-CG8-omYfzjM1I-jo9O-sa3KDwaAq17EALw_wcB

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