Physically, he was jet black in complexion and was known to say, according to the famous historian Benjamin Quarles, that he was different from Frederick Douglass who thanked God for making him a man; Delany thanked God for making him a black man. There was something he felt in the nature of the black man’s spirit that had come from the pressures of enslavement that made him adaptable, resilient, and willful. These were characteristics that made him proud of his race.

Identity was important to Delany as it is to most people. He knew something about his own origins, but, like most Africans who had been forced into bondage and who had lost their language, Delany could not go beyond a few generations.  But he held onto what he had. Names had often been stolen and thrown away into the thin air of anonymity by the slave trade itself.

Delany’s grandfather had been enslaved but the family had managed to make its way to Pennsylvania where Martin Delany began to make his own history. He devoted his time to reading, to studying, and to demonstrating the capability of the black man. He saw himself as the equal to any other man. After two hundred and fifty years of subservience this was something that challenged the thinking of blacks.

Delany managed to edit a newspaper, studied medicine at Harvard until he was asked to leave, explored the Niger River in West Africa, accepted a commission from Lincoln to become a major in the Union Army, lived in South Carolina and run for Lieutenant Governor, amassing an impressive vote. Projecting himself always as the representative of his people, despite the fact that he found himself between the Republicans and Democrats and had to abandon South Carolina, he finally settled in Ohio and was buried in Wilberforce.

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  • 22 November 2013
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