Henry Beard Delany

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Henry Beard Delany (February 5, 1858 – April 14, 1928) was the first African-American elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Episcopal Church honors him with a feast day on the liturgical calendar on the anniversary of Delany's death, April 14.[1]

Early Life[edit]

Henry Delany was born into slavery in St. Mary's, Georgia in 1858. His parents were Thomas Delany, a ship and house carpenter, and Sarah, a house servant to a Methodist family in that town. After the American Civil War and emancipation, the family moved to Fernandina Beach, Florida, where young Delany learned brick laying, plastery and carpentry from his father, and also helped on the family farm. He was able to attend a school funded by the Freedmen's Bureau and staffed by missionaries.[2] In 1881 the rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in that town, Rev. Owen Thackera, funded a scholarship to allow Delany to attend St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, which episcopal priests had founded in 1867 to educate newly freed men and women.[3] There, Delany studied theology, music and other subjects.

Career[edit]

Upon graduating in 1885, Delany joined the faculty, where he remained until 1908. He taught carpentry and masonry and supervised building projects, as well as (after the ordinations discussed below) served as the school's vice-principal (1889-1908), chaplain and musician. Although not trained as an architect, Delany is credited as the architect as well as builder of the Norman Gothic-style historic chapel, crafted in part from stone quarried on campus.[4] Delany and the students also built a library in 1898, and St. Agnes' Hospital (completed 1909 and the only hospital serving blacks in the area until 1940) on the St. Augustine's College campus.[5]

Delany joined Raleigh's St. Ambrose Episcopal Church,[6] was ordained a deacon in 1889 and a priest in 1892. From 1889 to 1904 Delany served on the national church's Commission for Work among Colored People. He visited Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregations as well as organized schools and met with and arranged educational opportunities for prisoners.[7] Upon being appointed Archdeacon for Negro Work in the Diocese of North Carolina, Delany resigned his position at the school, but continued to live on campus, for his wife continued to teach and serve as the college's matron. Raleigh's Shaw University awarded him an honorary degree for his educational activities in 1911.

Delany was unanimously elected suffragan bishop for Negro Work at the North Carolina diocesan convention, and consecrated in 1918. He also agreed to assist the bishops of East and Western North Carolina, South Carolina and Upper South Carolina in establishing separate black parishes pursuant to the Jim Crow laws rampant in the south. Bishop Delany advocated keeping African American Episcopalians united within the Church despite those segregationist practices within the Church and society.[8]

Death[edit]

Bishop Delany died at his campus home in 1928, and after a ceremony in the chapel he helped build, was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Raleigh.[9]

Family[edit]

Delany married his class valedictorian (and fellow St. Augustine's College faculty member) Nannie James (1861–1956) of Danville, Virginia in 1886. They had ten children, including long-lived civil rights pioneers Sadie and Bessie Delany, authors of the autobiographical bestseller Having Our Say.[10][11] His son Hubert Thomas Delany became one of the first appointed African American judges in New York City, and later in his long and distinguished career served as legal advisor to many prominent civil rights activists.[12] His youngest son, Samuel, was the father of author and educator Samuel R. Delany, Jr..

Children
  • Lemuel Thackara Delany (1887–1956)
  • Sarah Louise Delany (1889–1999)
  • Annie Elizabeth Delany (1891–1995)
  • Julia Emery Delany (1893–1974)
  • Rev. Henry Delany, Jr. (1895–1991)
  • Lucius Delany (1897–1969)
  • William Manross Delany (1899–1955)
  • Hubert Thomas Delany (1901–1990)
  • Laura Edith Delany (1903–1993)
  • Samuel Ray Delany (1906–1960)

Bibliography[edit]

  • Delany, Sarah Louise; Delany, Annie Elizabeth; Hearth, Amy Hill (1993). Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (First edition ed.). New York: Kodansha International. ISBN 1-56836-010-X.
  • Afro-American Church Work and Workers, Church Advocate Print, Baltimore, MD (1904).
  • Episcopal Clerical Directory, The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York, New York (1926).
  • Halliburton, Cecil D. A History of St. Augustine's College 1867-1937. Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton Company, 1937.

References[edit]