Author: Eleanor Stanford

a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Martin R. Delany (1812–1885)

Martin R. Delany was an African American abolitionist, writer, editor, doctor, and politician. Born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), he was the first black field officer in the United States Army, serving as a major during and after the American Civil War (1861–1865), and was among the first black nationalists. A fiercely independent thinker and wide-ranging writer, he coedited with Frederick Douglass the abolitionist newspaper North Star and later penned a manifesto calling for black emigration from the United States to Central America. He also authored Blake; or, The Huts of America, a serial publication about a fugitive slave who, in the tradition of Nat Turner, organizes insurrection. In his later life, Delany was a judge and an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor of South Carolina. Despite all this, he remains relatively unknown. “His was a magnificent life,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1936, “and yet, how many of us have heard of him?” Historians have tended to pigeonhole Delany’s contributions, emphasizing his more radical views (which were celebrated in the 1970s), while giving less attention to the extraordinary complexity of his career.