Without Regard to Race: The Other Martin Robison Delany

By Tunde Adeleke | Go to book overview
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THREE
First Integrationist Phase
Moral Suasion, 1830–1849

MARTIN DELANY HAD the “good fortune” of belonging to the “free” black community through the fortuitous circumstance of being born of a “free” mother on May 6, 1812, in Charlestown, Virginia (now in West Virginia). Being free, however, brought little comfort, for it conferred no special distinguishing privilege or status. In this respect, Delany exemplified the curious paradox of “free blacks” in early-nineteenth-century America. To be “free” and “black” juxtaposed two inherently contradictory qualities. The two in fact mocked each other, for freedom represented an existential value, the want of which defined the essence of being black. And, as several scholars have pointed out, the attainment of freedom by a black person was often the beginning of a sustained struggle that itself underscored the emptiness and sterility of the freedom.1

Although born free, Delany’s experience was in no fundamental way different from that of a slave. He therefore shared with other free blacks the fate of having no fundamental experiential advantage over those in bondage. Consequently, from his birth, Delany’s experiences were too negative to inspire any positive and endearing consciousness of America. Like other free blacks, he grew up frustrated and alienated, perhaps even angry, at the misery and degradation that defined black lives in America. As a young boy growing up in Jeffersonian Virginia, he had only negative, alienating childhood experiences. Blacks were denied education. In 1793 free blacks were barred in Virginia. In 1806

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