Written on: February 13th, 2019 in Blog Posts
Throughout Black History Month we are spotlighting African American leaders that influenced Delaware. This week, we are highlighting families who changed history: Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Abraham Doras Shadd, a father and daughter from the 1800s and Jane Mitchell and Littleton Mitchell a husband and wife from recent time. These families helped shape Delaware and the nation at large.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a Anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher and lawyer. She was the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada. Cary advocated for the abolition of slavery, equality, and promoted full racial integration through education and self-reliance.
Cary was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 9, 1823 to a socially activist father. Her family moved to Pennsylvania for better educational opportunities for black children, and she attended a Quaker school.
In 1987 she was posthumously designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project. She was also honored by Canada; named a Person of National Historic Significance. Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s former residence in the U Street Corridor in Washington D.C. was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Abraham Shadd was born in Millcreek Hundred in Delaware on March 2nd, 1801 and he spent most of his early life in Wilmington. Shadd went on to take over the shoe-making shop his father Jeremiah had created. He married Harriet Parnell in the early 1820’s, and in 1823 they had their first child Mary Ann Shadd (see above), who went on to become a historical figure in her own right.
By the 1830’s, Abraham Shadd started to become more prominent in the abolitionist movement. He used his homes in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware, to provide lodging for fleeing fugitive slaves.
Shadd joined other black activists to organize against the African Colonization Society whose members wanted to send African Americans to Liberia. Believing that the future for African Americans was in North America, he argued that education, thrift, and hard work would enable black men and women to achieve equality.
After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Abraham moved his family to Canada, and in 1859 he made his mark there by becoming the first black elected official in Canada.
Jane Mitchell was born in 1921. She went on to graduate from Howard High School Provident Hospital Nursing Program, then University of Delaware and she later earned a Master’s degree from Washington College. She was one of Delaware’s first African American nurses, spending her career at the Governor Bacon Health Center and later the Delaware Psychiatric Hospital, where she ultimately rose to director of Nursing Services.
She was an avid volunteer spending time with AARP, the American Cancer Society, Meals on Wheels, and the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center – a community health center located in Wilmington.
She was an NAACP member as well as a member of the National Nursing Honor Society, Sigma Theta Tau. Her awards include the UD Medal of Merit and the NAACP Unsung Heroine Award. Mrs. Mitchell also is a member of the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame.
Littleton Mitchell was born in 1918. He attended Howard High School where he met his future wife Jane Mitchell. He enrolled at West Chester State College which would become West Chester University, but put his education on hold to enlist in the U. S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He became a member of Tuskegee Airmen, where he served as an instructor for instrument simulator training at Tuskegee Army Air Base.
After he finished his service, he and his wife moved back to Delaware and he completed his education graduating with a degree in Physical Education. He went on to work as a teacher and counselor at the Governor Bacon Health Center, a facility for emotionally troubled youth, where he became the first African American in Delaware to teach white students.
He was a lifelong member of the NAACP and went on to become the president of the Delaware State Branch in 1961. He held that position for thirty years. Through his work he advocated for fair housing, school desegregation, voting rights and growing educational and employment opportunities for African Americans.
Photos courtesy of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
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