The Charity Block

The Charity Block was located at the corner of King and Adelaide Street in the city of Chatham. Owned by James Charity the block was home to a few businesses. James owned the Great Western Boot and Shoe Store in the block. From an early advertisement in 1854, he offered a complete stock of gentlemen, ladies and children’s shoes of every description.
The Charity Block was also more famously home to the Provincial Freeman newspaper during its time in the city of Chatham. Beginning publication in 1853, the Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper, advocated for equality, integration and self-sufficiency for the Black community in Canada and the USA.

* * *

First published in Windsor with the original issue date of 24 March, 1853 it moved to Toronto in 1854. Remaining in Toronto for a little over a year, the newspaper would eventually make its way to Chatham in the summer of 1855. Its chief editor was Mary Ann Shadd and since her parents and brothers already lived in the area, the move made sense. It is often noted that the newspaper was published until 1857 but evidence shows that some issues were still published into 1859 and likely ceased production in the spring of 1860.
Mary Ann Shadd best known as an educator, abolitionist, suffragette and early feminist was the first Black female newspaper published in North America. She lived by the newspaper’s motto “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence”. The Provincial Freeman originally listed Samuel Ringgold Ward as the editor (who was the co-editor) because Mary Ann did not want to list her own name or take credit for her articles because of the fear of having a female name at the time. But over the years Mary Ann would eventually have her name on the newspaper.
Born to free parents in Delaware one of 13 children, Mary Ann was given an education by the Quakers and would later use that education to become a teacher. Much like her parents, Abraham and Harriet Shadd, Mary Ann was active in the abolitionist movement.
Mary Ann Shadd also wrote educational booklets as well as articles for her newspaper that would let those in America know the advantages of moving to Canada. This included the booklet called “A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West” (1852). Shadd was also an advocate who opposed segregated schools for Black children.
Shadd pushed the boundaries normally ascribed to her race and gender and blazed a trail for others to come. She would even enroll in Howard University late in life to study law. She graduated as not only the first female law student at Howard University but also the first Black female graduate at the age of 60.