In Chatham, we were introduced to Dorothy Wallace who showed us an exhibition of artefacts that were connected with the Black community there and what I found interesting was that they had a set of Masonic china on display. Dorothy kindly told us about her father, a Great War veteran who taught her the importance of organization, kindness and kept her away from stories about the horrors of the war. She spoke of her childhood in Chatham and how the current trend is that the town is shrinking because people tend to leave these rural areas to get better jobs in the cities. This made me reconsider how very important it is to hear directly from the people who lived in places of historical significance and in times that we haven’t had a chance to live through.
Dorothy also told us about Mary Ann Shadd Cary who was from Chatham and who was the first black woman to publish a Newspaper in North America and who gave a voice to her community through this. I wanted to do a bit more research on Mary Ann and coming from a module that was about Africans being put on a slave vessel as human cargo it is just so incredible to hear about a woman like Mary Ann who, despite racism and oppression ended up influencing Canada in this way.
I wanted to make a connection between what we’re learning here in Ontario and what we learned in Professor Otele’s module last semester and I found a book by Jane Rhodes which details the love story between Mary Ann’s grandparents, a German soldier and an African American woman. She nursed him back to health and they, then, got married in the late 18th century. I also looked at some editorials of Mary Ann Shadd’s newspaper, the Provincial Freeman to gain access to a very singular range of sources for how gender and racial issues were described in the mid 19th century.
It is, especially in a time of fake news and the press being described as the enemy of the people, so significant that Mary Ann’s legacy exists.
Dorothy, furthermore, asked us about how the most horrible sides of history should or could be taught to children. She asked the audience what we thought about displaying photos of lynchings in a museum and if children should be confronted with them in a setting like that.
I believe the audience’s opinion was that there should not be any censorship and that the truth is always better than the covering up of the horrible parts of history. On the other hand, the decision to leave parts out and not talk about them can be seen as symbolic for how we establish a historical narrative, too. This is sort of were history, politics and truth become one.
And because I am from Germany, I’m very interested in how atrocities in a nation’s history should be taught to students of all ages and I will take this project as an example of how essential it is to give a voice to those who have been suppressed for centuries and how the phantoms of the past remain unnamed ghosts no more.