- NAME: Martin Robison Delany
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Doctor, Editor, Author
- BIRTH DATE: May 06, 1812
- DEATH DATE: January 24, 1885
- Did You Know?: Martin Robison Delany has a historic plaque in his honor in Pittsburgh.
- EDUCATION: Harvard Medical School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Charles Town (now West Virginia), Virginia
- PLACE OF DEATH: Wilberforce, Ohio
- AKA: Martin R. Delany
- AKA: Martin Delany
- Full Name: Martin Robison Delany
Best Known For
Abolitionist Martin Robison Delany was both a physician and newspaper editor, and became one of the most influential and successful anti-slavery activists of the 19th century.
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Born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), on May 6, 1812, Martin Robison Delany spent his life working to end slavery. He was a successful physician—one of the first African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School—who used his influence to educate others about the evils of slavery with a number of abolitionist publications. He later served in the Civil War. Delany died on January 24, 1885, in Wilberforce, Ohio.
"Every people should be originators of their own destiny."
"Act in the living present-but act! Face thine accusers, scorn the rack and rod, and if thou hath truth to utter, speak the truth, and leave the rest to God."
[said to have been Delany's motto]
Martin Robison Delany was born free on May 6, 1812, in Charles Town, Virginia, now within West Virginia. The youngest of five children, Delany was the son of a slave and grandson of a prince, according to family reports. All of his grandparents had been brought over from Africa to be slaves, but his father's father was by some accounts a village chieftain, and his mother's father a Mandingo prince. His mother, Pati, may have won her freedom because of this and she worked as a seamstress, while her husband Samuel was an enslaved carpenter.
Pati was determined to educate her children, but Virginia was a slave state, and she was reported to the sheriff for teaching them to read and write from The New York Primer for Spelling and Reading, which she had procured from a traveling peddler. She quickly moved the family to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Samuel could not join them until he had bought his freedom a year later.
Delany continued his education in Pennsylvania, alternating with work to help support his family. When he was 19, he walked the 160 miles to Pittsburgh to attend the Bethel Church school for blacks and Jefferson College, where he studied Latin, Greek and classics. He also apprenticed with several abolitionist doctors to learn medicine.
In Pittsburgh, Delany became active in abolitionist activities, including leading the Vigilance Committee that helped relocate fugitive slaves, helping to form the Young Men's Literary and Moral Reform Society, and joining the integrated militia to help defend the black community against white mob attacks.
He traveled through the Midwest, down to New Orleans and over to Arkansas, including a visit to the Choctaw Nation, before settling down and marrying Catherine Richards, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, in 1843. They went on to have 11 children.
Delany resumed his interest in medicine, but also founded The Mystery, the first African-American newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. His articles about various aspects of the anti-slavery movement were picked up by other papers and his renown began to spread, but a libel suit against him, filed (and won) by Fiddler Johnson, forced him to sell the paper.
Frederick Douglass quickly hired Delany to write for his paper, The North Star, in 1847, but they didn't always agree on the right course for the abolitionist movement, and the collaboration ended after five years.
In 1850, Delany was one of the three first black men to enroll in Harvard Medical College, but white protest forced him to leave after the first term.
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