Why Not Go Farther?
A Curriculum on the Life & Work of Mary Ann Shadd Cary
The Godmother of Activist Black Journalism
Wilmington, DE – Washington, D.C. (1823-1893)
Written and created by Summer Hamilton & Denise Burgher for DouglassDay.org
Thanks for taking the time to engage with this curriculum, The Godmother of Black Activist Journalism which explores Black activist journalist Mary Ann Shadd Cary. As a Black intellectual activist journalist, editor, writer, educator, teacher, organizer, daughter, wife and mother Mary Ann Shadd Cary (MASC) wore many hats. Though history has not celebrated her, during her lifetime, she was both well known and controversial. MASC was well educated, an attorney, a teacher, organizer for emigration to Canada by Black Americans, a journalist when few women especially Black women, were allowed to become journalists, an editor of an independent Black newspaper, The Provincial Freeman printed and distributed from Canada where she lived with her family for many years before returning to America. This curriculum seeks to give students the tools–the primary documents, activities, secondary documents, reading questions and supplementary materials to answer the Essential question, Is MASC the Godmother of activist Black journalism? Teachers will find all the materials they need to teach students-primary documents, secondary documents including but not limited to online magazine articles, video clips, images, activities and much more.
How to Use this Curriculum
Share the MASC EQ on the board and/or via email etc. Discuss.
Explain what an obituary is and where they appear–in newspapers traditionally and in video format. Discuss. Field questions. Be aware that this might prove a sensitive topic for students if they have had a family member or friend for whom a bio was written.
Explain that obituaries are usually written about very famous people and then printed in newspapers and magazines. People who are not famous do not usually have an obituary written by journalists and printed on the front pages of newspapers and or magazines–but their family members might write an obituary and place it in the local newspaper. Discuss why people might want to write or read an obituary. Field questions.
Explain the Times has begun writing obituaries of people they should have but did not at the time. Explore why the journalists working at the Times may have decided not to write obituaries about famous people who died even though they were well known enough and or had done important things and should have been written about. And that you will be reading and learning about MASC who did not receive an obituary when she died. But the Times has decided that she should have one. Distribute the Times obituary. Allow time for reading or explain that the text must be read at home. Explain the homework.
Read the Unsung Heroes obituary of MASC written by the Times. This text can be shared via a link on Canvas or the software management program used by your school, emailed to students individually or printed out and distributed to the students the day before. Students should read and make notes on/with the text identifying words or phrases they are unfamiliar with to be ready for class discussion the following day. (This activity can be done in class as a whole group activity with the text projected on a whiteboard or using a desk projector and with students reading aloud and annotating the text with guidance from the teacher).
Warm up: Watch a video of Nikole Hannah Jones
As students prepare to watch the short video of NHJ and the legacy of Ida B. Wells, ask students to write down a quote from the clip that they strongly agree with or disagree with. After the video, students will spend 5 minutes free writing about the quote they selected and why they strongly agree or disagree. Sharing may be optional or required.
Revisit the Essential Question
Activity 1: Define the Word
Discourse. Define and discuss. Explain how students are immersed in discourse—define define and discuss how they use devices and respond on devices as a way of participating in discourse. Discuss what shaped discourse before the internet and cellphones–news papers. Newspapers were cheap, readily available, and because of printing presses were fairly easy to produce as opposed to books. Discuss. Guide students to understanding that the newspapers were one of the ways that people participated in creating discourse in the 19th century in similar ways that we participate in discourse through social media.
Activity 2: Project
Social Media Inventory
Explain that students are going to conduct a social media inventory with a partner. Pair students. Ask students to interview their partner to identify the number devices they use, the platforms or apps they use to communicate and participate in discourse, the amount of time they spend watching, the amount of time they spend creating content, their favorite type of content and why. You can ask them to create an interview sheet or use the one we have provided (T chart with listed questions for answers, a summary section on the bottom, spaces labeled for the interviewer and the interviewee) The interviewer will complete the chart, the student being asked the questions will complete the summary. Both students will be graded–the interviewer and the interviewee.
This exercise allows students to not just take an inventory of the frequency and extent to which they participate in shaping discourse but to make sure they understand that they are actively consuming and creating content as a form of citizen journalism on the internet. This understanding will allow them to begin to understand the ways that the newspapers worked during the 19th century and the importance of MASC and other journalists then and now.
This assignment can be graded.
Culminating Activity #1: TikTok Video
Students will make a stitched TikTok video of MASC answering the essential question: should MASC be considered the unsung Godmother of Black activist journalism?
The anchor video of the TikTok must explain who MASC is and if the student thinks MASC should or should not be considered the Godmother of Black activist journalism. The anchor or first video should give the most important details about MASC including the areas in which she practiced activist journalism, in what forms and how her work shaped popular discourse.
Students will find and stitch to their anchor (first) video, four (4) clips of other contemporary and or historical activist women in journalism who work on issues or in areas that are similar to those which MASC tackled. For example, MASC worked on the importance of education for Black children, the right to vote for all people, to end racism at the hands of police officers and white vigilantes among others.
In class, you have learned about MASC, Ida B. Wells Barnett who worked to end lynching in America and contemporary African American activist journalist Hannah Nikole Jones who is working to end racism in education and journalism. There are many other Black activist journalists. Are there connections between someone like Yamiche Alcindor, April Ryan,Jemele Hill or others to MASC? What makes their work the same or different? These are some of the areas you will need to address in your video.
Culminating Activity #2: Poster
Students will create a poster using Canva or another application which responds to the essential question: should MASC be considered the unsung Godmother of Black activist journalism? In order to respond to the question, students will need to choose (4) four other historical or contemporary journalists to include on the poster to compare with MASC. For example, MASC worked on the importance of education for Black children, the right to vote for all people, to end racism at the hands of police officers and white vigilantes among others.
Are there activist journalists who do similar work or or have worked on these issues in the past? Your poster must show how MASC’s work is connected to the work these journalists do now or did in the past. The poster should make very clear how and why the student believes MASC should be considered the unsung Godmother of Black activist journalism.
Culminating Activity #3: Collage
(This could be a whole class activity or small group work if students are provided the pictures of images beforehand or are allotted time to identify, print and sort the images for the collage.)
Students will create an annotated collage using pictures cut out of magazines, newspapers or downloaded and printed from the internet to make an artistic response to the essential question: should MASC be considered the unsung Godmother of Black activist journalism?
In order to respond to the question, students will need to choose (4) four other historical or contemporary journalists to include on the poster to compare with MASC. For example, MASC worked on the importance of education for Black children, the right to vote for all people, to end racism at the hands of police officers and white vigilantes among others.
Are there activist journalists who do similar work nor or have worked on these issues in the past? Your collage, using images and texts, must show how MASC’s work is connected to the work the contemporary journalists do now or historic journalists did in the past. The collage should show how and why the student believes MASC should be/should not be considered the unsung Godmother of Black activist journalism
Each image must include a description explaining why the student chose the image and how the person in the image demonstrates why/how MASC is or is not the Godmother of Black activist journalism. The connections between each image should include but not be limited to the work of journalists, aspects of their identity, and or the ways they shape the discourse of their time.
The collage should include an introductory text which explains the construction of the collage as well as the anchor image and text of MASC and the four additional images of the historic and or contemporary journalists.
- Activist journalism
- Social media* (consider deleting?)
- Purple prose
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born on October 9, 1823 in Delaware. Her early life was shaped by a sweeping tide of state laws (called Black Codes) that discriminated against the rights and liberties of African Americans. Thanks to these laws, it was increasingly difficult for free African Americans to vote, get an education, or earn a living. Shadd Cary spoke out against these injustices through her writing and the early parts of her career as a teacher.
Her life changed dramatically in the 1850s. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 required all people–North and South–to participate in supporting the system of slavery. These laws and the accompanying rise in racist violence made Shadd Cary decide to leave the United States and move to Canada. She lived in Canada for more than a decade. During her time in Canada, she founded civic and mutual support organizations. In 1853, she founded a newspaper called the Provincial Freeman. Alongside that editorial work, Shadd Cary wrote many letters and essays to encourage others to emigrate from the United States to Canada. She continued to be an active member of the Colored Conventions and a leading voice in local Ontario discussions about how to best improve the lives of recently arrived refugees from the United States.
When the Civil War began, Shadd Cary returned to the US to serve as a recruiter for the Union Army. She traveled widely in Indiana and Connecticut, among many other places. After the war, she moved to Washington DC where she would become one of the first Black women to attend law school. After graduating from Howard University, she continued to be a leading voice in the struggles for Black women’s civil rights and social justice until her passing on June 5, 1893.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was always ahead of her time. She is one of the unsung heroes of nineteenth-century Black activism. During a time when Black rights were a distant hope, at best, and women were not supposed to take part in public affairs of politics and publishing, she broke many barriers. As she wrote in an 1849 letter to Frederick Douglass, “in anything relating to our people, I am insensible of boundaries.”
Major Life Events
1823 – Born in Wilmington, DE (Oct 9)
1849 – Self-published Hints to the Colored People of the North (no known copies survive)
1851 – Emigrated to Canada
1852 – Self-published A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West
1853 – Founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper
1856 – Married Thomas Cary
1863 – Returned to the US to recruit Black troops for the Union Army
1869 – Enrolled at Howard Law School
1880 – Founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association
1893 – Died in Washington, DC
Learn more on our page about Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s life & legacies
Transcribe a Primary Document Assignment
Add links to the help guide, tutorials, and field guide here…
Recommended Primary Sources for Elementary School
Recommended Secondary Sources for Elementary School
- Jeri Chase Ferris, Demanding Justice: A Story about Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Jeri Chase Ferris
- Canadian History for Kids: Mary Ann Shadd
- Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s 197th Birthday, Google Doodle blog post and guest artist Q&A
Recommended Primary Sources for High School
Recommended Secondary Sources for High School
- Megan Specia, “NYT Overlooked No More: How Mary Ann Shadd Cary Shook Up the Abolitionist Movement”
- Documentary, Mary Ann Shadd Cary Revisited: Echoes from An Old House
- Neely Tucker, “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Trailblazer for Feminism, Freedom”
- Colored Conventions Project
- Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century
- Article on four (4) 19th century journalist reformers
- Article which does not mention MASC or and women of color.
- Article which does not mention MASC but does identify Ida B Wells
- Sid Bedingfield, “The Irony of Complaints about Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Advocacy Journalism.” Article on Nikole Hannah-Jones and advocacy journalism/activist tradition; does not mention MASC
- Article on Nikole Hannah Jones and her Pulitzer prize winning essay with link.
- Link to Gabrielle David’s publication, Trailblazers, which includes a section on Black women journalists that explicitly connects MASC to NHJ.
- Video Clip of NHJ interview. Includes discussion of Ida B. Wells’ biography.
- Panel interview featuring NHJ and three other writers. Around the 17 minute mark, NHJ discusses heroism and the power that comes with telling one’s story.