Celebrating the 208th Birthday of Legendary Abolitionist, Journalist and Doctor Martin Delany

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In his lifetime, abolitionist Martin Delany took on many roles: he was a physician, an editor, a journalist and a soldier. Today we commemorate the birthday of Martin Delany, who was born on May 6, 1812.

For most of us at The North Star, Delany’s birthday is extremely significant. If it wasn’t for Delany and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, The North Star wouldn’t exist. From 1847 to 1849, Douglass and Delany co-edited the abolitionist newspaper, which started in Rochester, New York.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Delany became a symbol of the Black Power and Black Arts movement. Despite the legacy he left behind, many do not know about Delany and his accomplishments. Here are some more facts about Delany that you should know:

Delany was born in Charles Town, Virginia. His family moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania after his parents were found guilty of illegally teaching their children to read and write. In 1831, he traveled outside of Pittsburgh and studied Latin and Greek and practiced medicine as an apprentice with an abolitionist doctor. He and three other African American students were the first African Americans to be accepted into Harvard Medical School, but protests by white students forced Delany to withdraw from the university.

Martin Delany worked to recruit soldiers for black Union regiments. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

Before he was accepted into medical school, Delany toured states like Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas observing the life of enslaved people in 1839. It led him to become part of the abolitionist movement and to start his own Black newspaper called the Mystery, which published the struggles of Black people living in the U.S. The Pittsburgh weekly newspaper, which was the first Black newspaper to be published in the region, was often republished in white newspapers.

While writing for The North Star, Delany traveled to places like Michigan and Ohio to recruit subscribers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. During his travels, he would send letters of his travels to be published in the newspaper. In one of his letters, Delany recounted how he and a travel companion were threatened by a mob.

“Then came the most horrible howling and yelling, cursing and blasphemy, every disparaging, reproachful, degrading, vile and vulgar epithet that could be conceived by the most vitiated imaginations," Delany wrote, "which bedlam of shocking disregard was kept up from nine until one o'clock at night.”

In 1852, Delany wrote his manifesto called: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, which called for the emigration of Black people from the U.S. to Central America.

In 1859, three years after moving to Canada with his family, Delany wrote the novel Blake; or, The Huts of America, which tells the story of a fugitive enslaved person who travels across the South and in Cuba to start a rebellion against the government. It was first published in the Anglo-African Magazine and Weekly Anglo-African. The novel wasn’t published into a book until the 1970s.

After meeting with President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he was commissioned a major and became the U.S. Army’s first Black field officer. Following the Civil War, Delany moved to South Carolina and was politically active. He even ran as an independent Republican for South Carolina lieutenant governor in 1874 but lost the election to Richard Howell Gleaves.