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Wed, 05.06.1812

Martin Delany, Nationalist with spirit

Martin Delany

This date marks the day Martin Delany was born in 1812. He was an Black abolitionist, Black Nationalist, author, and soldier.

Martin Robinson Delany was the son of a slave father and a free mother. As a child, he moved to Chambersburg, PA, where a prosperous mentor paid for his education.  Delany had a varied career. In 1843, he began practicing medicine and he attended Harvard Medical School. He wrote several books, including a novel, Blake. Later, he worked in real estate. But his true importance was as an advocate for Blacks. During the 1840s, he published The Mystery, the first Black-owned newspaper west of the Alleghenies, and he was co-editor of the Rochester North Star. Also during the 1840s, Delany wrote antislavery pamphlets and helped escaping slaves on their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

In the 1850s, Delany concentrated his prodigious energies on emigration and colonization ventures. He played a leading role in African American emigration conferences for West Africa. In 1859, Delany signed a treaty with Nigeria to allow African American settlement and the development of cotton production using free West African workers. The coming of the Civil War disrupted those plans.

During the American Civil War, Delany was commissioned a major, making him the highest-ranking Black officer of the conflict. Following the war, he worked for the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina, which led to political office during the Reconstruction era. In the 1870s his support for the South Carolina Democratic candidate for governor cost him his political career.

In his final years, Martin Delany published books and was active in the ill-fated Liberian Exodus Joint-Stock Steamship Company.  Martin Robinson Delany died in 1885.

Black First:
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement
by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1994 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
ISBN 0-8103-9490-1

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