Martin Robinson Delany

Martin Robinson Delany

Martin Robinson Delany was born a slave in Charleston, Virginia, on 6th May, 1812. Illegally taught to read by his mother, his father purchased the family's freedom in 1823.

When Delany was nineteen he moved to Pittsburgh where he attended the Bethel Church School. A doctor in the town, Andrew McDowell, employed Delany as his assistant.

In 1843 Delany began publishing the anti-slavery newspaper, The Mystery. Four years later, Delany joined Frederick Douglass on the North Star. He also attended the Harvard Medical School (1849-52) and afterwards established himself as a doctor in Pittsburgh.

Delany continued in the struggle against slavery and he travelled the country campaigning against the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1852 Delany published the Destiny of the Colored People in the United States (1852) where he recommended emigration out of the United States. In 1859 he led an exploration party to West Africa to investigate the Niger Delta as a location for settlement.

During the Civil War Delany recruited soldiers for the Union Army. In 1865 he obtained the rank of major, therefore becoming the first Afro-American to receive a regular army commission. After the war he worked for the Freemen's Bureau.

In 1873 Delany became a customs inspector in Charleston and was an active supporter of the Liberian Exodus Joint Stock Exchange Company, an organization which arranged the transport of emigrants to Liberia. Martin Robinson Delany died in Wilberforce, Ohio, on 24th January, 1885.

Primary Sources

(1) Martin Robinson Delany, letter to William Lloyd Garrison (1852)

I should be willing to remain in this country, fighting and struggling on, the good fight of faith. But I must admit, that I have not hopes in this country - no confidence in the American people - with a few excellent exceptions.

(2) Martin Robinson Delany, Destiny of the Colored People in the United States (1852)

They earnestly contended, and doubtless honestly meaning what they said, that they (the whites) had been our oppressors and injurers, they had obstructed our progress to the high positions of civilizations, and now, it was their bounden duty to make full amends for the injuries thus inflicted on an unoffending people.