Major Martin R. Delany

Martin Robison Delany was an African American abolitionist, the first African American Field Officer in the U.S Army, and one of the earliest African Americans to encourage a return to Africa.  Delany was born on May 6, 1812 in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) to a slave father and a free mother.  Delany’s mother took her children to Pennsylvania in 1822 to avoid their enslavement and persecution brought on by attempting to teach them to read and write, which was illegal in the state at that time. In 1833, Martin Delany began an apprenticeship with a Pittsburgh physician and soon opened a successful medical practice in cupping and leeching (it was not necessary to be certified to practice medicine prior to 1850).  In 1843 he began publishing a newspaper in Pittsburgh called The Mystery, and later Delany joined Frederick Douglass to produce and promote The North Star in Rochester, New York.

Martin R. Delany entered Harvard Medical School in 1850, to finish his formal medical education (along with two other black students), but was dismissed from the institution after only three weeks as a result of petitions to the school from white students.  Two years later he published The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, claiming that even abolitionists would never accept blacks as equals and thus the solution to the black condition lay in the emigration of all African Americans back to Africa.  In 1859, Delany led an emigration commission to West Africa to explore possible sites for a new black nation along the Niger River.  When the Civil War began in 1861 Delany returned to the United States and recruited thousands of men for the Union Army.  In February 1865, after meeting with President Abraham Lincoln to persuade the administration to create an all-black Corps led by African American officers, Delany was commissioned a Major in the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment.  With that appointment, he became the first line officer in U.S. Army history.

Martin R. Delany, considered by many as the “father of black nationalism,” died in Xenia, Ohio on January 12, 1885.  The Martin Robison Delany marker was installed in Charles Town on August 1,1999, just outside the Jefferson County Court House.  In addition, a Charles Town street was subnamed Martin Delany Way, in his honor on May 5, 2001.