“Your masters who lived in opulence, kept you to hard work by some contemptible being called overseer-who chastised and beat you whenever he pleased-while your master lived in some Northern town or in Europe to squander away the wealth only you acquired for him. He never earned a single Dollar in his life. You men and women, every one of you around me, made thousands and thousands of dollars for your master. Only you were the means for your masters to lead the ideal and inglorious life, and to give his children the education, which he denied to you, for fear you may awake to conscience.”

Martin Robinson Delany

On May 6, 1812, Martin Robinson Delany, abolitionist and the first African American field officer in the United States Army, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia. Because it was illegal to teach black people to read or write, he and his siblings taught themselves. In 1835, Delany became more actively involved in political matters and attended his first Negro Conference. In 1843, he began publishing The Mystery, a black-controlled newspaper, and in 1847 together with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison began publishing the North Star newspaper.

In the 1850’s, Delany became convinced that whites would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society and in his book, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (1852), he argued that blacks had no future in the United States and should leave and found a new nation elsewhere. In 1863, Delany began recruiting black men for the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, raising thousands of enlistees, and in 1865 he was commissioned as a major, becoming the first black field officer in the U.S. Army.

Following the war and the demise of the Reconstruction Period, Delany helped form the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company with the intent to immigrate to Africa. However, he had to withdraw from the project due to family obligations. Delany died January 24, 1885 and his biography, Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism, was published in 1971.

The Akosua Report: Facts on The African Diaspora, is written by Akosua Lowery. Follow her on Twitter @AkosuaLowery.

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  1. More people should know about Delany–whose middle name was Robison, not Robinson. It would be useful to note that this excerpted speech was delivered by Major Delany to freedmen on St. Helena Island, South Carolina on July 23, 1865. W. L. Garrison was opposed to any newspaper beyond his own “Liberator” newspaper for the benefit of black people. So he did not assist Douglass’s and Delany’s “North Star”in 1847.
    One might add that Dr. (after study at Harvard Medical School in 1850) Delany organized an important Emigration convention in 1854; serialized his long fiction Blake, or the Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba in 1859 and 1861-62; explored in Liberia (July-mid-September, 1859, and Nigeria (September-through April, 1860) seeking a safe site for his people to emigrate; lectured on behalf of his plans in great Britain (April-December 1860). He began recruiting for the U. S. Army in 1862.

  2. Wow!!! Thanks for greatly improving and correcting this information on an important early figure in American history!!!

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