An Overlooked Piece of Black History — The Story of Martin Delany
Martin Delany was born in 1812 in Charlestown, Virginia to an enslaved father and a free mother. His grandparents were said to have been apart of a royal line back in Africa. It is for this reason that it is thought that, Delany’s mother, Pati, was able to buy her freedom.
Pati was passionate about education and insisted upon teaching her children, but at that time it was illegal to do so. After being persecuted and mistreated, Pati took her children, fled to Pennsylvania, and raised Delany and his four siblings there.
In 1833, when Delany was just19 years old, he walked 160 miles to Pittsburg so that he could attend the Bethel Church School for Black students and Jefferson College. During that time, he apprenticed for many abolitionist doctors and had a successful medical practice in cupping and leeching. It is at this time when his work as an abolitionist and a Black nationalist began.
He led a Vigilance Committee, which was used to help relocate slaves, formed the Young Men’s Literacy and Moral Reform Society, and even joined a militia to help defend a Black community against White mob attacks. Additionally, he published The Mystery, which was an African American newspaper, and he was later asked by Frederick Douglas to be a co-writer to yet another newspaper, the Northern Star.
In 1850, his focus shifted briefly back to medicine. He was one of three of the first African Americans to be accepted into Harvard Medical School, but after three weeks, he was expelled because of petitions from White students.
Afterward, he wrote a very controversial book among abolitionists called, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, which portrayed that White abolitionists would never accept Black people as equals and therefore, African Americans should form their own separate nation in order to finally receive their civil rights. He led an emigration commission to West Africa to look for sites to set up an African American colony along the Niger River.
Delany returned to the United States at the start of the Civil War, and in 1865 he met with President Abraham Lincoln. During the meeting, he was able to convince Lincoln to get the administration to create an all-Black Corps led by African American officers.
His wish was granted and he was commissioned as Major in the 52nd U.S. and Colored Troops Regiment. He was also the first U.S. line officer. While he was assigned to Freedman’s Bureau in South Carolina, he fought for the enforcement of Black civil rights and land for free African Americans. Also, he served as a judge for a short amount of time while he was there.
Delaney eventually moved to Ohio and passed away there in 1885. He left behind a legacy for future African Americans looking to partake in a career in medicine, journalism, the military, and politics. In addition to this, he fought faithfully for the application of civil rights for African Americans.
- Delany, Martin Robison (1812–1885) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Web. 16 Feb. 2018. <http://www.blackpast.org/aah/delany-major-martin-robison-1812–1885>
- “Martin Robison Delany.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 23 Apr. 2015.Web. 16 Feb. 2018 <https://www.biography.com/people/martin-robison-delany-9270228>