In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Martin R. Delany

  • Introduction
  • Primary Works
  • Scholarly Editions
  • Reference & Overviews
  • Biographies

African American Studies Martin R. Delany
by
Katy Chiles, Henry Kirby
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0117

Introduction

Martin Robison Delany (b. 1812–d. 1885) was an African American writer, editor, physician, politician, soldier, and theorist of race, emigration, and Black nationalism. Delany was born free in present-day West Virginia to a free mother and an enslaved father. In 1831, Delany moved to Pittsburgh where, in 1843, he established The Mystery (1843–1847), Pennsylvania’s first African American newspaper. His efforts with The Mystery gained the attention of Frederick Douglass, who invited Delany to co-edit The North Star. As co-editor and correspondent, Delany toured free African American communities, fundraising and writing editorials about issues facing African Americans. By the early 1850s Delany had emerged as a free Black leader and an important voice on colonization. In 1852 he wrote The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, arguing for African American emigration to Central and South America. He subsequently imagined Africa as the site for a new nation founded and governed by African Americans and devoted to the general uplift of “the African race.” In 1859, he led the first American expeditionary tour into Africa, where he entered into a treaty with the Egba peoples of Abeokuta to establish a new nation on their lands. Delany detailed his expedition and plans for the new nation in his 1861 Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party, but his vision never came to pass. During this time Delany conceived and wrote the manuscript for Blake; or, the Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba, his only novel, which depicts an inchoate slave insurrection that envelops the United States, Canada, Cuba, and Africa. Blake was published serially in The Anglo-African Magazine (January–July 1859) and then in The Weekly Anglo-African (November 1861–April 1862). However, the final chapters of the novel are no longer extant. During the Civil War, Delany became the first African American major in the US Army. After the collapse of Reconstruction, Delany apparently abandoned his postwar ideas of racial equality. His 1879 Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color with an Archaeological Compendium of Ethiopian and Egyptian Civilization promoted his newly articulated polygenetic racial theory and presented Africa as a symbolic site for Black social and cultural regeneration. He continued to champion selective Black emigration to Africa through the final years of his life. After his death, Delany lapsed into obscurity until the 1960’s, when Black Nationalist historians restored his writing to public consciousness. Since that time, Delany has been of perennial interest to scholars of American literature, history, and culture.

Primary Works

The scope of Martin R. Delany’s literary output during his lifetime marks him as one of the most important African American political figures of the 19th century. Deeply invested in the “elevation of the African race,” in his prose Delany combines radical interpretations of the past and incisive critiques of the present to argue for a future in which a transnational Black race would ascend to the highest rank of nations (Delany 1847, Delany 1853, and Delany 1852). His political work continued to inspire Black nationalist movements well into the 20th century (Delany 1852, Delany 1861, Delany 1870, and Delany 1871) and his only known published novel, Blake; or, the Huts of America, has helped recontour the field of African American literature (Delany 1859, Delany 1861–1862, and Delany 1968).

  • Delany, Martin Robison. Eulogy on the Life and Character of the Rev. Fayette Davis. Pittsburgh, PA: Benjamin Franklin Peterson, 1847.

    In this eulogy given before the St. Cyprian Lodge, No. 13 of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons, for Rev. Fayette Davis, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, Delany extols Davis as an exemplary Black Christian devoted to the religious and social well-being of his race. At the encouragement of the St. Cyprian Masons, after delivering his eulogy, Delany published it as a pamphlet.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States. Philadelphia: Martin R. Delany, 1852.

    Identified in Sterling 1971 as the “first full-length piece of political analysis by a black American,” The Condition argues for African American citizenship and also for Black emigration to Central and South America. Writing for free African Americans, Delany anatomizes the structure of systematic racism, even in the supposedly free North, and claims the establishment of a predominantly Black republic as the path toward the elevation of “the African race.”

  • Delany, Martin Robison. The Origin and Objects of Ancient Freemasonry, Its Introduction into the United States, and Legitimacy Among Colored Men: A Treatise Delivered Before St. Cyprian Lodge, no. 13, June 24th, A.D. 1853, A.L. 5853. Pittsburgh: W.S. Haven, 1853.

    In this address, Delany outlines a history of the Masonic tradition. Locating its origins in Egypt and Ethiopia, Delany connects the Masons to African history and extols its importance for Black leadership and community. Delany argues that the Grand Lodges of England should recognize the “legality of the Colored Masons in the United States.” Because the Masons originated in Africa, Delany argues, white Masons should not separate themselves from Black Masons.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. “Blake: or the Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba.” Anglo-African Magazine (1859).

    Blake has a fascinating publication history. Chapters of Blake were first published in the Anglo-African Magazine, edited by Thomas Hamilton. The January 1859 issue published chapters 28, 29, and 30. The February 1859 issue began publishing chapters from the beginning, printing chapters 1–5. The March–July 1859 issues continued serially publishing the chapters 6–23. At the end of 1859, Hamilton reissued the year’s monthly installments as The Anglo-African Magazine, Volume 1-1859.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party. New York: Thomas Hamilton, 1861.

    In 1859, Delany and Robert Campbell entered into a treaty with the leaders of Abeokuta, Nigeria, to establish a group of select African Americans and Afro-Canadian emigrants in a new settlement on Egba land. Delany’s published his Official Report of the expedition in 1861, partly to promote emigration to the prospective settlement, although his pamphlet also abounds in geographic and ethnographic details, advice to settlers, and Delany’s thoughts on the political and economic future of Africa.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. “Blake: or the Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba.” Weekly Anglo-African (November 1861– May 1862).

    Blake was next published in The Weekly Anglo-African, a newspaper edited by Robert Hamilton (brother to Thomas). On November 23, 1861, the paper began publishing the novel in differently segmented installments. The newspaper continued printing the novel through chapter 74 in its April 26, 1862 issue. Most scholars surmise that the last six chapters of the novel were published in the May 1862 issues of the newspaper, which are no longer extant.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. University Pamphlets: A Series of Four Tracts on National Polity: To the Students of Wilberforce University; Being Adapted to the Capacity of the Newly-Enfranchised Citizens, The Freedmen. Charleston, SC: Republican Book and Job Office, 1870.

    In these four tracts, Delany instructs the students of Wilberforce University in the “principles of National Polity.” Delany delineates aspects of Citizenship, Civil Rights, the Constitution, and Succession in an effort to educate newly-enfranchised Black male citizens on their rights and responsibilities within a democratic republic. Delany originally published the essays in the New National Era and then later together as a pamphlet.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. Homes for the Freedmen. Charleston, SC: Martin R. Delany, 1871.

    In a series of letters later published as a pamphlet, Delany makes an argument for prosperous philanthropists from the north to purchase land from southern landholders to be sold at low interest to Black Freedmen during the Reconstruction era. In a prescient argument that anticipates the production of the racial wealth gap, Delany shows how sharecropping will never allow the Freemen to accrue wealth and how all communities will benefit from Black landownership.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. Principia of Ethnology: The Origin of Races and Color with an Archaeological Compendium of Ethiopian and Egyptian Civilization. Philadelphia: Harper, 1879.

    In Principia of Ethnology, Delany engages racist claims made by members of the “American School” of ethnography whose early experiments promulgated a polygenetic view of racial origin. Delany uses ethnographic evidence to put forth his monogenetic theory that all races descended from Adam. He further analyzes the Pyramids and other archaeological evidence from Ancient Egypt to illustrate Africans’ cultural parity with the other races of the world.

  • Delany, Martin Robison. Blake: or the Huts of America: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley, the Southern United States, and Cuba. Arno, 1968.

    In 1968, Arno Press republished, in facsimile form, Thomas Hamilton’s 1859 bound edition of his magazine, The Anglo-African Magazine, Volume 1-1859.

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