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Delany, Martin R

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1812-1885) US physician, soldier, newspaper editor, author and advocate of Black rights, during a period when it was anything but safe for an African-American to speak out (though he was born free, his mother broke the law when she taught him to read and write). Success in each of his several fields of endeavour was fraught with risk, as his patent accomplishments deeply affronted white Americans; student protests caused his removal from medical studies at Harvard in 1850, with the connivance of Oliver Wendell Holmes; he eventually began to practice medicine, though it is unclear whether he actually took a degree.

Delany was an active editor and writer for most of his life. He founded and edited a Black abolitionist journal, the Mystery (1843-1847) and co-edited the North Star (1847-1849) with Frederick Douglass (circa 1818-1895); in The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States: Politically Considered (1852) as Martin Robison Delany he argued for voluntary emigration to Africa as a separatist solution to the American race problem. His separatist Utopia, Blake, Or the Huts of America (1859 The Anglo-African Magazine, part only; 1861-1862 Weekly Anglo-African, full text; all surviving portions 1970) was the first novel to be published by a Black person in America. Blake's programmatic hopefulness is so radically disjunct from the actual fate of Blacks in America before the Civil War that Samuel R Delany (no relation) has argued that it is a genuine Alternate History, though the loss of the final portions of the text makes it impossible to determine if its protagonist succeeds in establishing a separatist state in a freed Cuba, and manages permanently to escape Slavery.

In his later life, Delany was the first Black man to gain the rank of field officer in the American army. His imprisonment in 1875 – for fraud while serving as a Trial Justice in Charleston, South Carolina – seems to have resulted from trumped-up charges, and he was soon pardoned. In 1877, he co-founded the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company, whose goal was to support emigration to Africa. His last book, Principia of Ethnology [see Checklist for full subtitle] (1879 chap), argued the early primacy of Black civilization in Africa, and for the superiority of native Africans over those of mixed blood. [JC]

see also: Race in SF.

Martin Robison Delany

born Charles Town, Virginia [now West Virginia]: 12 May 1812

died Wilberforce, Ohio: 24 January 1885

works (selected)

about the author


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