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Dr. Martin R. Delany: A Man Missing From Black History

The use of history as a tool of liberation is an ongoing battle that the African in American Community must come to grips with.

Far too many African in American people reject the use of history as a tool in understanding the past, the present, and the future. The rejection of history, by many of us, results in the denial of our true condition and situation as thirty million people living in the United States.

From time to time, in reflecting on our history and our present situation as a race, I reread a most profound book. In fact, I suggest that all African in American people read this book and become familiar with the work of this unsung hero in our struggle, Dr. Martin R. Delany. Martin R. Delany (a contemporary of Frederick Douglass and co-founder with Douglass of The North Star Newspaper) was a fearless and independent champion for the cause of our redemption from 1840 until his death in January 1885 at the age of 72.

Martin Delany
Martin Delany

Dr. Delany was known as the most prominent advocate of African in American nationalism in the nineteenth-century. It was in his book, written in 1852, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigrations, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States” that Delany’s view of the situation of our race became widely known.

Delany was free born in Charleston, Virginia on May 6, 1812. In an effort to improve their situation, the Delany’s moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania when Martin was ten years old. At the age of nineteen, young Martin moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he worked as a barber and studied with an African in American minister named Lewis Woodson. Woodson is given credit for shaping Delany’s political thought.

It was in Pittsburgh that Delany became exposed to the efforts of Africans in America who were organizing against the chattel slave system. These men were called abolitionists. Delany began attending meetings that focused on the abolition of slavery. These meetings and contacts with other African in American leaders inspired Delany to continue his self-education on the history of our race. He became an avid reader of world history and philosophy eventually emerging as one of the most important African in American think- ers and orators.

Africans in America knew Delany for his opposition to the chattel slave system and for his call for Africans in America to voluntarily return to Africa and establish a nation. He was a tenacious fighter for African in American collective action and self-help throughout his participation in the movement.

The life of Dr. Martin R. Delany should be required study for all African in American youth. For example, how many Africans in America are aware that Delany was among the small group of African in American medical students that attended Harvard Medical School in 1850 and 1851? Although white supremacy and racism forced Delany to withdraw (the white medical students strongly objected to a Black man graduating with them feeling this would lessen their degree), he went on to distinguish himself as an outstanding physician specializing in chronic diseases affecting women and children.

Delany was a prolific writer. He wrote the third novel produced in this country by an African in America titled, “Blake and the Huts of America.” Additionally, he published an account of his trip to Africa to locate emigration sites, “the official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party.” Delany’s final work was titled, “Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color with an Archaeological Compendium of Ethiopian and Egyptian Civilization.” It was in this work that Delany revealed that the ancient Egyptians and Ethiopians were Black, and the creators of the world’s first civilizations, contrary to the European conception of Egypt and Ethiopia (a concept they still cling to today despite all of the evidence to the contrary).

The words that Delany wrote in 1852 have not changed and are still relevant and reflective of our condition today. In “Condition and Elevation,” Delany stated, “White men are producers—we are consumers. They build houses, and we rent them. They raise produce, and we consume it. They manufacture cloths and wares, and we garnish ourselves with them. They build coaches, vessels, cars, hotels, saloons, and other vehicles and places of accommodation, and we deliberately wait until they have got them in readiness, then walk in, and contend with as much assurance for a “right” as though the whole thing was bought by, paid for, and belonged to us.”

And finally, Delany said in this great work, referring to the Europeans, “By their literary attainments, they are the contributors to, authors and teachers of literature, science, religion, law, medicine, and all other useful attainments that the world makes use of. We have no reference to ancient times speak of modern things.”

Much of what Delany wrote and lectured about in the nineteenth-century concerning the condition of African in American people is still true today. Our challenge is to continue his legacy by breaking the mental chains of slavery that keep us dependent on others for our history and the interpretation of world events. Read the works of Dr. Martin R. Delany and you will find much wisdom.

Dr. Conrad Worrill, Professor Emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS). New office location is at 1809 E. 71st Street, Chicago, Illinois 60649, 773-592-2598. Email: [email protected] Website:

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