- 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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So he returned to writing, publishing The Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry; Its Introduction into the United States and Legitimacy Among Colored Men and prior to that, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered,
a treatise that explored the option of blacks returning to their native Africa.
This prompted a trip to Nigeria in the mid-1850s to negotiate land for African-American emigrants, as well as exploring Central America and Canada as options. Delany wrote about what he found there as well as a novel, Blake: Or the Huts of America.
The Emancipation Proclamation gave Delany hope that emigration might not be necessary, and he became active in promoting the use of African Americans in the Union Army, recruiting one of his own sons, Toussaint L'Ouverture Delany, to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.
In 1865, he even reportedly met with President Lincoln to discuss the possibility of African-American officers leading African-American troops. As a Civil War major in the 104th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops, Delany became the highest-ranking African American in the military up to that point.
After the war, Delany tried to enter politics. A quasi-biography, written pseudonymously by a female journalist under the name Frank A. Rollin—Life and Services of Martin R. Delany (1868)—was a stepping stone to serving on the Republican State Executive Committee and running for lieutenant governor of South Carolina.
Although he supported African-American business and advancement, he would not endorse certain candidates if he did not think they were fit to serve. But his support did help elect Wade Hampton governor of South Carolina, and he was appointed trial judge.
Delany resumed emigration initiatives when the black vote was suppressed, serving as chairman of the finance committee for the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company. In 1879 he published Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color, with an Archeological Compendium and Egyptian Civilization, from Years of Careful Examination and Enquiry, which detailed the cultural achievements of the African people as touchstones of racial pride. But in 1880 he returned to Ohio, where his wife had been working as a seamstress, to practice medicine and help earn tuition for his children attending Wilberforce College.
Frederick Douglass' most famous quote about him underscores Delany's legacy as a spokesman for black nationalism: "I thank God for making me a man, but Delany thanks Him for making him a black man."
Martin Delany died of tuberculosis on January 24, 1885, in Wilberforce, Ohio. He has been described as a Renaissance man: publisher, editor, author, doctor, orator, judge, U.S. army major, political candidate and prison inmate (for defrauding a church), and the first African American to visit Africa as an explorer and entrepreneur.
"Delany is a figure of extraordinary complexity," wrote historian Paul Gilroy, "whose political trajectory through abolitionisms and emigrationisms, from Republicans to Democrats, dissolves any simple attempts to fix him as consistently either conservative or radical."
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African-Americans have a long history of activism in America, from fighting for the right to vote to pushing for integrated public spaces. Activists like Stokely Carmichael organized freedom rides, James Meredith fought to integrate blacks and whites at the University of Mississippi, and Rosa Parks instigated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. These protests were often legal and nonviolent, and made a powerful impact on civil rights in the United States. With the help of activists like these—and many others—the country slowly worked to acknowledge the basic rights and contributions of African-Americans. Activists outisde of the U.S. include Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who have fought against apartheid in South Africa. Learn more about the many black activists who fought against the odds in order to achieve equality.
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