Black Historical Society/Black Mecca Museum
The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum shares the story of Chatham’s Black community beginning at the end of the 18th century until the present day. In the early 1800’s Black families began to settle along McGregor’s Creek and by the 1850 the village of Chatham, then known as “the Forks” was almost one-third Black. Rev. Richard R. Disney is quoted as saying: “Chatham was not a Mecca only. In a broader and truer sense, it was the Coloured Man’s Paris.” Once here, Blacks in Chatham thrived in business, education, medicine, sports, literary and cultural arts. News of their success attracted Blacks to the area from across North America.
Backstory and Context
The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum features displays that contain a wealth of information, local artifacts and genealogical information on the achievements and struggles of Blacks in early Chatham. Visitors to the museum can also experience a guided walking tour of the surrounding area, discovering the streets and places where people like Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Martin Delany and John Brown once walked.
BME FREEDOM PARK
The BME Freedom Park is located on the former site of Chatham’s BME Church. In response to the growing tensions surrounding slavery in the United States, Canadians formally established Chatham’s British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856. In 1983 the church was designated a heritage building by the municipality because of its historical significance as one of the earliest religious institutions owned and governed by former slaves who escaped to and settled in Canada. In 1989 however the BME Church was demolished due to disrepair and the lot remained vacant until the BME Freedom Park was established.
The park, developed in conjunction with the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, East Side Pride, University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus and the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, was officially opened in 2009. The park’s focal point is the bronze bust of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, sculpted by Artis Shreve Lane.
Head Contact: Samantha Meredith, Executive Director-Curator
Gilbert Dickey spent 35 years of life enslaved in North Carolina. The interview with Benjamin Drew outlines his struggle as a slave, while demonstrating the physical and mental toll he had on his life.