For a few days in 1851, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto was the centre of the Abolitionist world. There, under the sparkling lights of the Great Hall, hundreds gathered for the North American Convention of Colored Freemen. At this historic meeting – for Blacks only – the community took ownership of its own struggle. Here also, two factions of the movement came face to face for the first time.

One of the voices in a famous argument belonged to Mary Ann Shadd. She was a bright, articulate young American and the indulged daughter of prosperous free Blacks. She had none of the scars, mental and physical, of abolitionist and former slave Henry Bibb – whom she met for the first time at this conference. Not long afterwards, Shadd moved to Canada and opened a school with the full support of Mary and Henry Bibb.

The peace was short-lived. Shadd was an uncomfortable colleague, as the Bibbs soon discovered. She accused them of trying to isolate the Blacks and of making them dependent on white charity. In 1853, she founded her own newspaper – The Provincial Freeman – as a place to argue against the “superstitious” Black clergy, to attack the Bibbs’ Refugee Home Society for creating dependency, and to push for racial integration. It was a useful debate, though sadly bitter in tone, and it continued in one form or another for much of the 20th century.

Janet Uren (WordImage Inc.)
Maggie Fawcett, Claire Brodie, Parks Canada Agency, Multiculturalism Branch / Department of Canadian Heritage

Ontario, CANADA
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