Martin Delany

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Martin R. Delany)
Jump to: navigation, search
Martin R. Delany
Martin R. Delany
Born May 6, 1812
Charles Town, Virginia (present-day Charles Town, West Virginia), U.S.
Died January 24, 1885(1885-01-24) (aged 72)
Wilberforce, Ohio, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1863–1865
Rank Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Major
Battles/wars American Civil War

Martin Robison Delany (May 6, 1812 – January 24, 1885) was an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer, and arguably the first proponent of black nationalism.[1] He was one of the first three black people admitted to Harvard Medical School.

Trained as an assistant and a physician, he treated patients during the cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1854 in Pittsburgh, when many doctors and residents fled the city. He worked alongside Frederick Douglass to publish the North Star. Active in recruiting blacks for the United States Colored Troops, he was commissioned as a major, the first African-American field grade officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War.

After the Civil War, he worked for the Freedmen's Bureau in the South, settling in South Carolina, where he became politically active. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor and was appointed a Trial Judge. Later he switched his party loyalty and worked for the campaign of Democrat Wade Hampton III, who won the 1876 election for governor.

Early life and education[edit]

Delany was born free in Charles Town, Virginia (present-day Charles Town, West Virginia) to Pati and Samuel Delany. Although his father was enslaved, his mother was a free woman, and Martin took her status under Virginia's slave laws. Both sets of Delany's grandparents were African. His paternal grandparents were of Gola ethnicity (from modern-day Liberia), taken captive during warfare and brought as slaves to the Virginia colony. Family oral history said that the grandfather was a chieftain, escaped to Canada for a period, and died resisting slavery abuses.[2]

Pati's parents were born in the Niger Valley, west Africa, and were of Mandinka ethnicity. Her father was said to have been a prince[3] named Shango, captured with his betrothed Graci and brought to America as slaves. After some time, they were given their freedom in Virginia, perhaps based on their noble birth. Shango returned to Africa. Graci stayed in America with their only daughter Pati.[2] When Delany was just a few years old, attempts were made to enslave him and a sibling. Their mother Pati carried her two youngest children 20 miles to the courthouse in Winchester to argue successfully for her family's freedom, based on her own free birth.[2]

As he was growing up, Delany and his siblings learned to read and write using The New York Primer and Spelling Book, given to them by a peddler. Virginia prohibited education of black people. When the book was discovered in September 1822, Pati took her children out of Virginia to Chambersburg in the free state of Pennsylvania to ensure their continued freedom. They had to leave their father Samuel, but a year later he bought his freedom and rejoined the family in Chambersburg.[4]

In Chambersburg, young Martin continued learning. Occasionally he left school to work when his family could not afford for his education to continue. In 1831, at the age of 19, he journeyed west to the growing city of Pittsburgh, where he became a barber and laborer. Having heard stories about his parents' ancestors, he wanted to visit Africa, which he considered his spiritual home.[5] Delany and three other young black men were accepted into Harvard Medical School but African Americans were not accepted into the school after white students reportedly petitioned the school to exclude non-white applicants.[6]

Marriage and family[edit]

While living in Pittsburgh, in 1843 Delany met and married Catherine A. Richards. She was the daughter of a successful food provisioner, said to be one of the wealthiest families in the city.[7] The couple had eleven children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. The parents stressed education and some of their children graduated from college.[citation needed]


Delany became a student at Trinity A.M.E. Church on Wylie Avenue. Shortly after, he began attending Jefferson College, where he was taught classics, Latin and Greek by Molliston M. Clark. During the national cholera epidemic in 1832, Delany became apprenticed to Dr. Andrew N. McDowell, where he learned contemporary techniques of fire cupping and leeching, then considered the primary techniques to treat disease. He continued to study medicine under the mentorship of Dr. McDowell and other abolitionist doctors, such as Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne and Dr. Joseph P. Gazzam of Pittsburgh.[8]

Delany became more active in political matters. In 1835 he attended his first National Negro Convention, held in Philadelphia since 1831.[9][10] He was inspired to conceive a plan to set up a 'Black Israel' on the east coast of Africa.[4]

In Pittsburgh, Delany began writing on public issues. In 1843 he began publishing The Mystery, a black-controlled newspaper. His articles and other writings were often reprinted in other venues, such as in abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator.[11] A eulogy which Delany delivered for Rev. Fayette Davis in 1847 was widely redistributed. His activities brought controversy in 1846, when he was sued for libel by "Fiddler" Johnson, a black man he accused in The Mystery of being a slave catcher. Delany was convicted and fined $650 — a huge amount at the time. His white supporters in the newspaper business paid the fine for him.[12]

While Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were in Pittsburgh in 1847 on an anti-slavery tour, they met with Delany. Together the men conceived the newspaper that became the North Star. It was first published later that year in Rochester, New York. The business was handled by Douglass, while Delany traveled to lecture, report, and obtain subscriptions.[13] In July 1848 he reported in the North Star that U.S. District Court Justice John McLean had instructed the jury in the Crosswait trial to consider it a punishable offense for a citizen to thwart those trying to "repossess" an alleged runaway slave. His coverage influenced abolitionist Salmon P. Chase to lead a successful drive to remove McLean as a candidate of the Free Soil Party for the Presidency later that summer.[14]

Medicine and nationalism[edit]

While living in Pittsburgh, Delany studied the basics of medicine under doctors and maintained his own cupping and leeching practice. In 1849 he began to study more seriously to prepare to apply to medical school. In 1850 he failed to be accepted to several institutions before being accepted to Harvard Medical School, after presenting letters of support from seventeen physicians. He was one of the first three black men to be admitted there. The month after his arrival, however, a group of white students wrote to the faculty, complaining that "the admission of blacks to the medical lectures highly detrimental to the interests, and welfare of the Institution of which we are members." They cited "no objection to the education and elevation of blacks but do decidedly remonstrate against their presence in College with us."[15]

Within three weeks, Delany and his two fellow black students, Daniel Laing, Jr. and Isaac H. Snowden, were dismissed, despite dissenting opinion among students and staff at the medical school.[16] Furious, Delany returned to Pittsburgh. He became convinced that the white ruling class would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society, and his opinions became more extreme. His book, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (1852) argued that blacks had no future in the United States.[17] He suggested they should leave and found a new nation elsewhere, perhaps in the West Indies or South America. More moderate abolitionists were alienated by his position, and they resented his criticism of those who failed to hire colored men in their own businesses. Delany criticized racial segregation among Freemasons, a fraternal organization.[citation needed]

Delany moved to Chatham, Ontario, Canada, in 1856 and lived there until 1859. In Chatham he assisted in Underground railroad activities.[4] In reply to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1859 and 1862, Delany published parts of Blake: Or The Huts of America in serialized form. His novel portrayed an insurrectionist's travels through slave communities. He believed that Stowe had portrayed slaves as too passive, although he praised her highlighting the cruelty of Southern slave owners. Modern scholars have praised Delany's novel as an accurate interpretation of black culture. The first half of Part One was serialized in The Anglo-African Magazine, January to July 1859. The rest of Part One was included in serial form in the Weekly Anglo African Magazine from 1861–62.[18]

Delany worked for a brief period as principal of a colored school before going into practice as a physician. During another cholera outbreak in 1854, most doctors abandoned the city, as did many residents who could leave, as no one knew how the disease was caused nor how to control the epidemic. With a small group of nurses, Delany remained and cared for the victims. Delany is rarely acknowledged in the historiography of African American education (Anderson, 1988; Bullock, 1967; Butchart, 1980).[why?] He is not counted among African American educators, perhaps because he neither featured prominently in the establishment of schools nor philosophized at length on Black education.[19]

In August 1854 Delany led the National Emigration Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.[20]

Delany advanced his emigrationist argument in his manifesto "Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent". The convention approved a resolution stating, "[A]s men and equals, we demand every political right, privilege and position to which the whites are eligible in the United States, and we will either attain to these, or accept nothing."[21] There were a significant number of women attendees who also voted for the resolution, considered the foundation of black nationalism.[citation needed]


In May 1859 Delany sailed from New York for Liberia, to investigate the possibility of a new black nation in the region. He traveled in the area for nine months and signed an agreement with eight chiefs in the Abeokuta region that would permit settlers to live on "unused land" in return for applying their skills for the community's good.[4] It is a question whether Delany and the chiefs shared the same concepts of land use.[citation needed] The treaty was later dissolved due to warfare in the region, opposition by white missionaries, and the advent of the American Civil War.[4]

In April 1860 Delany left Liberia for England, where he was honored by the International Statistical Congress. One American delegate walked out in protest.[4] At the end of 1860, Delany returned to the United States. The next year, he began planning settlement of Abeokuta. He gathered a group of potential settlers and funding. When Delany decided to remain in the United States to work for emancipation of slaves, the pioneer plans fell apart.[citation needed]

The Army[edit]

Martin R. Delany was the only black officer who received the rank of major during the Civil War.

In 1863 after Abraham Lincoln had called for a military draft, Delany began recruiting black men for the Union Army. His efforts in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and later Ohio raised thousands of enlistees, many of whom joined the newly formed United States Colored Troops. He wrote to the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, requesting that he make efforts "to command all of the effective black men as Agents of the United States", but the request was ignored. During the recruitment, 179,000 black men enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops; almost 10 percent of all who served in the Union army.[22]

In early 1865 Delany was granted an audience with Lincoln.[23] He proposed a corps of black men led by black officers who could serve to win over Southern blacks. Although a similar appeal by Frederick Douglass had already been rejected, Lincoln was impressed by Delany and described him as "a most extraordinary and intelligent man".[24] Delany was commissioned as a major a few weeks later, becoming the first black line field officer in the U.S. Army and achieving the highest rank an African American would reach during the Civil War.[4]

After the war, he remained with the Army and served under General Rufus Saxton in the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops. He was later transferred to the Freedmen's Bureau, serving on Hilton Head. He shocked white officers with his strong call for the right of freed blacks to own land. Later in 1865, he was mustered out of the Freedmen's Bureau and shortly afterward resigned from the Army.[4]

Later life[edit]

Following the war, Delany continued to be politically active. He worked to help black cotton farmers improve their business and negotiating skills to get a better price for their product. He also argued against blacks, when he saw fit. For instance, he opposed the vice presidential candidacy of Jonathan Jasper Wright and John Mercer Langston on the grounds of inexperience,[25] and he opposed the candidacy of another black man for the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina.

Delany unsuccessfully sought various positions, such as the appointment as Consul General in Liberia,[26] and nomination for lieutenant governor of South Carolina. In 1874, Delany ran and lost an election for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina to Richard Howell Gleaves.[27] He was appointed as a Trial Justice in Charleston.[28] In 1875 charges of "defrauding a church" were brought against him. He was convicted, forced to resign, and served some time in jail. Although pardoned by the Republican governor Chamberlain with the intervention of Wade Hampton,[29] Delany was not allowed to return to his former position.

Delany supported the Democratic candidate Wade Hampton in the 1876 gubernatorial election. Partly as a result of black swing votes encouraged by Delany, Hampton was elected. Much more significant to his victory was the intimidation and violence practiced by "rifle clubs" and the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group of mostly white men, who worked to suppress black voting at the polls. Historian George C. Rable described them as acting as "the military arm of the Democratic Party."[30] By 1876, there were estimated to be 20,000 white men who were members of rifle clubs in the state.[31] More than 150 blacks were killed in violence related to the election.[32]

Hampton reappointed Delany as a trial justice but white Democrats soon replaced Delany. In 1877 the federal government withdrew its troops from the South, marking an end to Reconstruction.Paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts continued to suppress black voting in the Carolinas, especially in the upland counties. In reaction to whites' regaining power and the suppression of black voting, Charleston-based blacks started planning again for emigration to Africa. In 1877, they formed the 'Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company', with Delany as chairman of the finance committee. A year later, the company purchased a ship, the Azor, for the voyage led by Harrison N. Bouey. He served as president of the board to organize the voyage.[4]

Last years and death[edit]

In 1880, Delany withdrew from the project to serve his family. Two of his children were students at Wilberforce College in Ohio and required money for tuition fees. His wife had been working as a seamstress to make ends meet. Delany began practicing medicine again in Charleston. On January 24, 1885, he died of tuberculosis in Wilberforce, Ohio.[4]

Delany is interred in a family plot at Massies Creek Cemetery in Cedarville, Ohio next to Catherine who had died the year before. For over 120 years his family plot was only marked with a small government-issued tombstone on which his name was misspelled. Three of his children, Placido (died 1910), Faustin (died 1912), and Ethiopia (died 1920) were subsequently buried alongside their parents. Every grave except Martin's remained unmarked. In 2006, after many years of fundraising, The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center was able to raise $18,000 to have a monument built and placed at the grave site of Delany and his family. The monument is made of Black African granite and features an engraved picture of Delany in uniform during the war.[33]

Legacy and honors[edit]


See the bibliography, "Martin Delany's Writings" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 1, 2009), West Virginia University Library.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Profile; accessed August 29, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Frank A. Rollins, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany, 1883, reprint 1969, Arno Press, pp. 14–17; accessed February 21, 2011.
  3. ^ Glasco (2004), p. 56
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gates Jr, Henry Louis, Emmanuel Akyeampong, and Mr Steven J. Niven. Dictionary of African biography. Vol. 6. Oxford University Press, USA, 2012. p177-179
  5. ^ "Timeline of Martin R. Delany's Life, The Early Years", hosted at West Virginia University; accessed February 20, 2011
  6. ^ Biography of Martin Robison Delany,; accessed November 4, 2015.
  7. ^ Neil A. Hamilton, American Social Leaders and Activists, Infobase Publishing, 2002, pp. 103–04, accessed February 24, 2011.
  8. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p487
  9. ^ "This Week In Black History 5-29-13". New Pittsburgh Courier. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  10. ^ "National Negro Convention Movement (1831-1864) - The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  11. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p29
  12. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p27
  13. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p69-70
  14. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p109-110
  15. ^ Sterling 1996, pp. 130–131.
  16. ^ Sterling 1996, p. 133.
  17. ^ Delany, Martin Robison (1852). The condition, elevation, emigration, and destiny of the colored people of the United States (EPUB). Philadelphia, PA: Martin R. Delany. 
  18. ^ "Stand still and see the salvation", Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture, University of Virginia, on line; accessed January 14, 2009.
  19. ^ Adeleke, Tunde (Spring 1994). "Martin R. Delany's philosophy of education: A neglected aspect of African American liberation... By: Adeleke, Tunde, Journal of Negro Education, 00222984, Spring94, Vol. 63, Issue 2". 63 (2): 221. 
  20. ^ "National Emigration Convention of Colored People". The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve University. 1998-03-04. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  21. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p243
  22. ^ white, Deborah (2013). Freedom On My Mind (volume 1 ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 334. 
  23. ^ White, Deborah (2013). Freedom On My Mind (Volume 1 ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 335. 
  24. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p388
  25. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p409-410
  26. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p437
  27. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p442
  28. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p490
  29. ^ Levine (editor) and Delany (2003) p452
  30. ^ George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
  31. ^ Walter Brian Cisco, Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman, Potomac Books, 2004, p. 260
  32. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, Paperback, 2007, p. 174
  33. ^ Delany profile,; accessed November 24, 2015.
  34. ^ a b "Martin R. Delany (1812–1885) – PHMC Historical Markers" (Database search). Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
  35. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books; ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  36. ^ A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, America in the Niger Valley: A Colonization Centenary Phylon 22:4; 23 225–39 (1962)


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]