Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader / Edition 1

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Martin R. Delany (1812-85) has been called the "Father of Black Nationalism," but his extraordinary career also encompassed the roles of abolitionist, physician, editor, explorer, politician, army officer, novelist, and political theorist. Despite his enormous influence in the nineteenth century, and his continuing influence on black nationalist thought in the twentieth century, Delany has remained a relatively obscure figure in U.S. culture, generally portrayed as a radical separatist at odds with the more integrationist Frederick Douglass.

This pioneering documentary collection offers readers a chance to discover, or rediscover, Delany in all his complexity. Through nearly 100 documents—approximately two-thirds of which have not been reprinted since their initial nineteenth-century publications—it traces the full sweep of his fascinating career. Included are selections from Delany's early journalism, his emigrationist writings of the 1850s, his 1859-62 novel, Blake (one of the first African American novels published in the United States), and his later writings on Reconstruction. Incisive and shrewd, angry and witty, Delany's words influenced key nineteenth-century debates on race and nation, addressing issues that remain pressing in our own time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An indispensable work that should quickly take its place among the foremost documentaries of our time. (Sterling Stuckey, author of Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America)

Levine's judicious selections and erudite annotations provide just the right accompaniment to Delany's strong and vibrant voice. (Frances Smith Foster, coeditor of The Oxford Companion to African American Literature)

Library Journal
One of the most influential African American leaders of the 19th century, abolitionist, physician, and editor Delany (1812-85) is considered the father of black nationalism. Gathered here are 100 selections from his early journalism, his emigrationist writings of the 1850s, a novel, and other works. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807854310
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 520
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert S. Levine is professor of English and director of graduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. His books include Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity.

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Read an Excerpt

Martin R. Delany

A Documentary Reader

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2003 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8078-2763-5


Martin Robison Delany (1812-85) lived an extraordinarily complex life as a social activist and reformer, black nationalist, abolitionist, physician, reporter and editor, explorer, jurist, realtor, politician, publisher, educator, army officer, ethnographer, novelist, and political and legal theorist. A sketch of his career can only hint at the range of his interests, activities, and accomplishments. Born free in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), the son of a free seamstress and a plantation slave, Delany in the early 1820s was taken by his mother to western Pennsylvania after Virginia authorities threatened to imprison her for teaching her children to read and write. In 1831 he moved to Pittsburgh, where he studied with Lewis Woodson and other black leaders, and began his lifelong commitment to projects of black elevation. He organized and attended black conventions during the 1830s and 1840s and during this same period apprenticed as a doctor and began his own medical practice. In 1843 he founded one of the earliest African American newspapers, the Mystery, which he edited until 1847. In late 1847 he left the Mystery and teamed up with Frederick Douglass to coedit the North Star, the most influential African American newspaper of the period. After an approximately eighteen-month stint with Douglass, Delany attended Harvard Medical School for several months but was dismissed because of his color. Outraged by Harvard's racism and the Compromise of 1850, in 1852 he published The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, a book-length critique of the failure of the nation to extend the rights of citizenship to African Americans, and a book that concludes by arguing for black emigration to Central and South America or the Caribbean. Delany's emigrationism conflicted sharply with Douglass's integrationist vision of black elevation in the United States. In response to Douglass's national black convention of 1853, Delany in 1854 organized and chaired a national black emigrationist convention, where he delivered "The Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent," the most important statement on black emigration published before the Civil War.

In 1856 Delany moved to Canada, where he set up a medical practice, wrote regularly for Mary Ann Shadd Cary's Provincial Freeman, and met with the radical abolitionist John Brown to discuss the possibility of fomenting a slave insurrection in the United States. During the late 1850s his views on emigration underwent a significant change. Instead of advocating black emigration to the southern Americas, he now argued for African American emigration to Africa. By 1859 he had obtained the funds that allowed him to tour the Niger Valley, and in December of that year he signed a treaty with the Alake (king) of Abeokuta that gave him the land necessary to establish an African American settlement in West Africa. In search of financial support for the project, he toured Great Britain and garnered international attention for his participation at the 1860 International Statistical Congress in London. Around this same time he published a serialized novel, Blake (1859, 1861-62) in an African American journal. He also published a book-length account of his travels and negotiations in Africa, Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party (1861). Delany's African project collapsed in the early 1860s when the Alake renounced the treaty, and by 1863 he was recruiting black troops for the Union army.

From 1863 to 1877, Delany recommitted himself to the integrationist U.S. nationalistic vision that had been central to his work with Douglass at the North Star. He achieved national fame for meeting with Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and shortly thereafter receiving a commission as the first black major in the Union army. Following the war, Delany served for three years as an officer at the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina, and he remained in South Carolina through the late 1870s as he attempted to make Reconstruction work in a stronghold of the former Confederacy. He published two major pamphlets for newly enfranchised African Americans, University Pamphlets (1870) and Homes for the Freedmen (1871), and in 1874 ran for lieutenant governor of South Carolina on the Independent Republican slate, losing by only 14,000 votes. Disillusioned by the Republicans' half-hearted commitment to Reconstruction, Delany in 1876 endorsed Wade Hampton, the Democratic candidate for governor of South Carolina, and was nearly killed by shots from a black militia at a Hampton rally. Hampton won the election, but Reconstruction came to an end in 1877, and a disillusioned Delany turned his attention to helping southern blacks who wished to emigrate to Liberia. In 1879, as he was seeking a federal appointment that would allow him to finance his own emigration to Africa, he published Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color (1879), an ethnographic study that, like his earlier Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry (1853), expressed a Pan-African pride in blacks' historical, cultural, and racial ties to Africa.

Surveying Delany's dynamic and creative career a year after his death in 1885, the African Methodist Episcopal priest James T. Holly proclaimed that Delany was "one of the great men of this age," a person whose life was "filled with noble purposes, high resolves, and ceaseless activities for the welfare of the race with which he was identified," and who "has given us the standard of measurement of all the men of our race, past, present, and to come, in the work of negro elevation in the United States of America." Holly was not alone in regarding Delany as one of the great African American leaders of the nineteenth century. But a number of Delany's contemporaries, even while celebrating his intelligence and greatness, had problems with what Holly in the same tribute refers to as Delany's "strongly-marked individuality." Like many strong individuals, Delany refused to shy away from conflict. One of Delany's closest friends, the African Methodist Episcopal bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, also extolled Delany for his "fine talents and more than ordinary attainments" but then turned his attention to what he portrayed as the political problems that could sometimes arise from Delany's bold combativeness:

His oratory was powerful, at times magnetic. If he had studied law, made it his profession, kept an even course, and settled down in South Carolina, he would have reached the Senate-chamber of the proud state. But he was too intensely African to be popular, and therefore multiplied enemies where he could have multiplied friends by the thousands. Had his love for humanity been as great as his love for his race, he might have rendered his personal influence co-extensive with that of ... Frederick Douglass at the present time.

Payne's image here of Delany as a vitriolic, race-conscious black man was shared by a number of other notable African American leaders of the time. In 1861 the novelist, historian, and black abolitionist William Wells Brown commented on Delany's propensity to elevate race over humanity after hearing him attempt to recruit black emigrants in Chatham, Canada West, for his African emigration project:

Considered in respect to hatred to the Anglo-Saxon, a stentorian voice, a violence of gestures, and a display of physical energies when speaking, Dr. Delany may be regarded as the ablest man in Chatham, if not in America. Like the Quaker, who when going to fight pulled off his coat, and laying it down, said, "There lie thee, Quaker, till I whip this fellow," so the Doctor, when going to address an audience, lays aside every classic idea of elocution and rhetoric, and says, "Remain there till I frighten these people."

According to Frances Rollin, who published the first biography of Delany in 1868, Frederick Douglass similarly remarked, "I thank God for making me a man simply; but Delany always thanks him for making him a black man." Douglass may not have said precisely those words (and in fact Rollin presents that alleged remark as a compliment), but in 1862 he complained that Delany "has gone about the same length in favor of black, as the whites have in favor of the doctrine of white superiority."

Brown's and Douglass's assessments of Delany have contributed to the creation of an unfair but still widely held image of Delany as a leader and writer who was both empowered and limited by his racial pride. But as readers of this volume will see, Delany in fact shared in the inclusive integrationism of Douglass and Brown, particularly during the 1840s and the period of Reconstruction, and he consistently worked with blacks and whites alike in the pursuit of social justice. For a person who could make enemies, Delany had quite a lot of friends and associates, and there are good reasons to be particularly suspicious of Brown's and Douglass's assessments. Not surprisingly, there were telling contexts for their condescending remarks on Delany. Douglass was in conflict with Delany from the late 1840s through the 1870s, and his acerbic comments on Delany's race consciousness came at a time when Douglass was still angry at Delany for having championed black emigrationism during the 1850s and for having attacked him as overly accommodating to whites. Brown's remarks on Delany also have to be considered in the context of their political disputes. Ironically, Brown presented his caricatured picture of Delany recruiting black Canadians for African emigration at a time when he was recruiting black Canadians from the same towns to emigrate to Haiti, using precisely the same racialized argument that Delany used when promoting black emigration to the southern Americas during the mid-1850s.

An even larger context for the racial thinking that Brown and Douglass attacked in Delany must be considered here and is on display throughout this volume. When Delany asserted his black pride, and even racial superiority, he did so against the grain of a culture that regarded blackness as a mark of evil and inferiority. Whereas Brown and Douglass declared that they would be happy to see race simply vanish from the United States through intermarriage, Delany from the 1830s until his death in 1885 fought white racists' denigration of blackness by embracing it. And he did so, again and again, rhetorically: by insisting that within white culture his blackness in effect made an argument about racial identity and character that mulatto leaders, such as Brown and Douglass, simply could not make. The African American educator Anna Julia Cooper underscored this point in her remarks on Delany in 1892: "The late Martin R. Delany, who was an unadulterated black man, used to say when honors of state fell upon him, that when he entered the council of kings the black race entered with him; meaning, I suppose, that there was no discounting his race identity and attributing his achievements to some admixture of Saxon blood." In this respect, Delany's race consciousness and pride, his very sense of himself as a representative black man, can be understood as his defiant response to the white racist gaze upon his black body.

Delany's rhetorical insistence on his status as representative and exemplary black man had a crucial role in his revival in the 1960s and 1970s. As historian Nell Irvin Painter has remarked, Delany remained "forgotten until his resurrection as the father of black nationalism and the epitome of proud blackness." During the 1960s and 1970s, as a result of the Black Arts movement and the upsurge of interest in black studies, Delany was suddenly being celebrated for precisely what Payne, Brown, and Douglass had professed not to like about him: his prideful race consciousness and Pan-African identity. Indeed, by the 1970s Delany had been virtually reified as the Father of Black Nationalism, a radical separatist who ultimately sought to lead blacks back to their "native" Africa. But this image of Delany, which is a partial one, has hurt his reputation in the larger culture, for (white) Americans tend to value what is proclaimed to be the more humane, inclusive integrationism of leaders on the order of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. Even though Delany often aligned himself with those very values, he has been defined in relation to a relatively small part of his career, and thus has suffered the typical fate of the black separatist in traditional fields of study: he has been marginalized and for the most part ignored, invoked primarily as the dark binary opposite of Douglass. Although Delany was a prolific writer who was unable to conceive of political action apart from writing and who wrote in a range of genres, most anthologies of American literature fail to reprint any of his multifarious and engaging writings, and, perhaps most astonishing of all, he is not included in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, the most widely used anthology in African American literary and cultural studies. This neglect would have left his contemporaries, African American leaders such as Holly and Payne, and even, I would surmise, Douglass and Brown, truly mystified.

Much of the problem of assessing and evaluating Delany lies in the tricky term "black nationalist." To be sure, it makes relatively good sense to identify Delany as a black nationalist. But does the label have a single, comprehensible meaning? A scholar of nineteenth-century African American literature recently termed Delany "the tinderbox black nationalist." Is "tinderbox" somehow naturally linked to "black nationalist"? Does a pride in blackness necessitate a hatred for whiteness and a separatist disdain for the United States that can only express itself in an inflamed violence? Another historian of African American culture has recently remarked that it would be "an egregious error to leave the talk of racial solidarity to persons who espouse black nationalism as their political project and predicate such actions on a rejection of America," with the implication being that black nationalism enforces a bad kind of racial solidarity and is ultimately un-American. Patriotic black Americans, according to this formulation, would never reject "their" country, no matter how often that country rejected them. It is worth keeping in mind that Delany's "rejection" of the United States during the 1850s came at a time when the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision affirmed that black Americans were forever denied the rights of citizenship.

Delany's rejection of the United States, which was never a full rejection and was always couched in terms of sorrow (and anger), occurred at particular historical moments when particular formations of American nationality (such as the antebellum formation that regarded blacks as little more than property) made rejection seem the most politically useful way to strengthen African American community and force dramatic changes in U.S. culture (Delany thought that whites would come to realize their dependence on black labor once blacks began to leave the country). Delany sometimes talked of emigration as a form of providentialism, what God required of blacks to bring about the regeneration of the race. But at other times he presented emigration as a short-term, small-scale effort that could ultimately improve blacks' condition in the United States. It is worth underscoring that Delany's emigration projects and commitments tended not to last for very long. For Delany, emigrationism was a way to sustain black community when that community was being degraded and splintered by white racist culture. In many respects, his form of black nationalism resembled the black nationalism of Brown, Douglass, Payne, and Holly. The historian Sterling Stuckey has argued that what links various expressions of black nationalism in the United States is a consciousness among African Americans "of a shared experience at the hands of white people" and of "the need for black people to rely primarily on themselves in vital areas of life." Rather than representing a single position-a race consciousness that is always aggressively separatist-black nationalism can embrace a range of sometimes competing and conflicting options-uplift, separatism, emigrationism, patriotism, racial anger, integrationism, and so on-and has to be constructed and reconstructed in response to different exigencies and contexts. Delany's special genius lay in his ceaseless and imaginative work at such construction and reconstruction.


Excerpted from Martin R. Delany Copyright © 2003 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
A Note on the Texts 23
Pt. 1 Pittsburgh, the Mystery, Freemasonry 25
Prospectus of the Mystery 30
Not Fair 32
Liberty or Death 34
Young Women 35
Self-Elevation Tract Society 36
Farewell to Readers of the Mystery 38
Eulogy on the Life and Character of the Rev. Fayette Davis 41
The Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry 49
Pt. 2 The North Star 69
Western Tour for the North Star 73
True Patriotism 137
Sound the Alarm 141
Liberia 144
Political Economy 149
Domestic Economy 151
Southern Customs - Madame Chevalier 157
Annexation of Cuba 160
The Redemption of Cuba 167
Letter to M. H. Burnham, 5 October 1849 170
Delany and Frederick Douglass on Samuel R. Ward 175
Pt. 3 Debating Black Emigration 181
Protest against the First Resolution of the North American Convention 187
The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States 189
Letter to Oliver Johnson, 30 April 1852 217
Letter to William Lloyd Garrison, 14 May 1852 219
Letter to Frederick Douglas, 10 July 1852 221
Delany and Douglass on Uncle Tom's Cabin 224
Letter to Douglass, 30 May 1853 238
Call for a National Emigration Convention of Colored Men 240
Letter to Douglass, 7 November 1853 243
Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent 245
Political Aspect of the Colored People of the United States 280
What Does It Mean? 291
Letter to Garrison, 19 February 1859 295
Blake; or, The Huts of America 297
Comets 313
Pt. 4 Africa 315
A Project for an Expedition of Adventure 320
Letter to Henry Ward Beecher, 17 June 1858 325
Canada - Captain John Brown 328
Martin R. Delany in Liberia 332
Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party 336
The International Statistical Congress 358
Africa and the African Race 362
Letter to James T. Holly, 15, January 1861 365
Letter to Robert Hamilton, 28 September 1861 368
Letter to James McCune Smith, 11 January 1862 370
Letter to the Weekly Anglo-African, 22 January 1862 372
The Moral and Social Aspect of Africa 373
Pt. 5 Civil War and Reconstruction 377
Letter to Edwin M. Stanton, 15 December 1863 383
The Council-Chamber. - President Lincoln 385
The Colored Citizens of Xenia 389
Monument to President Lincoln: Two Documents 392
Prospects of the Freedmen of Hilton Head 396
Triple Alliance 401
Letter to the Colored Delegation, 22 February 1866 403
Letter to Andrew Johnson, 25 July 1866 406
Letter to Henry Highland Garnet, 27 July 1867 409
Reflections on the War 411
University Pamphlets 415
Homes for the Freedmen 425
Delany and Frederick Douglass, Letter Exchange, 1871 431
Delany for Lieutenant Governor: Two Speeches 442
The South and Its Foes 448
Delany for Hampton 452
Politics on Edisto Island 456
Pt. 6 The Republic of Liberia 459
Letter on President Warner of Liberia, 1866 463
The African Exodus 466
Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color 468
Letter to William Coppinger, 18 December 1880 484
Chronology 487
Selected Bibliography 491
Index 495
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