Martin R. Delany

Born to a free mother and a slave father in Charlestown, located in western Virginia, Martin Robinson Delany (1812-85) was an editor, physician, and leading advocate of black emigration. In 1822, Delany's family moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in 1831, he moved to Pittsburgh where he worked as a barber, attended a school run by a black Methodist minister, and studied medicine, upgrading his occupation from "cupper and leecher" to physician. Between 1843 and 1847, Delany was editor of the Mystery, a black Pittsburgh newspaper. For the next two years he served as coeditor of Frederick Douglass's North Star and lectured and traveled extensively to gain new subscriptions for that paper. In 1850-51, Delany attended Harvard Medical College but, owing to protests from white students, was denied admission to the final term needed to complete his medical degree. The following year he wrote The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (Philadelphia, 1852), in which he argued that emigration was the only remedy for the oppressed state of African Americans. When many black abolitionists, including Douglass, rejected Delany's position, he organized a series of National Emigration Conventions that met in 1854, 1856, and 1858. These assemblies created a permanent National Board of Commissioners, of which Delany was president and chief propagandist. In 1856, Delany moved to Chatham, Canada West, and three years later explored the Niger river valley in Africa looking for possible emigration sites. His novel Blake was serialized in the Weekly Anglo-African from November 1861 through May 1862. During the Civil War, Delany served the North as a recruiter, an examining surgeon, and eventually as a major of the 104th U.S. Colored Troops. From 1865 to 1868, Delany was a Freedmen's Bureau officer in South Carolina and later was active in that state's politics, running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Independent Republican ticket in 1874. Martin R. Delany, Blake; or, The Huts of America, ed. Floyd J. Miller (Boston, 1970), ix; Dorothy Sterling, The Making of an Afro-American: Martin Robinson Delany, 1812-1885 (Garden City, N.Y., 1971); Victor Ullman, Martin R. Delany: the Beginnings of Black Nationalism (Boston, 1971), 52-103, 115-21, 140-71, 211-46; Thomas Holt, Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction (Urbana, Ill., 1977), 74-75, 176-77; Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 115-33, 171-83; DAB, 5:219-20.

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