Responding to an address Martin Robison Delany (1812–1885) delivered to the “Friendship Division No. 2 of the Philadelphia Order of the Sons of Temperance” on the 12th of May 1848, John I. Gaines of Cincinnati likened Delany to “the immortal, never-dying reformers of the sixteenth century—such as Melancthon, Zwingle, and Erasmus and Luther!”1 Showering praises on Delany, Gaines expressed pride that someone “so well qualified both by nature and education… who has not a drop of Anglo-Saxon blood running in his veins” should represent the black cause.2 It was important for Gaines to underline Delany’s “unadulterated blackness,” “for the simple reason that whenever a mind of a higher order is exhibited among us some gossip or goose is ready to attribute it to a little speck of white blood which is said to be coursing through our veins.”3 Gaines, in fact, spoke for many blacks. For Gaines and for many early-nineteenth-century black Americans, Delany had come to represent the quintessence of blackness, to exemplify black capabilities at the very best.
In Delany’s accomplishments, blacks found both ready answers to the prevailing racist questioning of black humanity, intelligence, and capability and evidence that negated the racist depiction of blacks as inherently inferior beings. Very early in his antislavery struggle, therefore, Delany’s unfeigned devotion to, and sacrifices for, the black cause, represented by his crusade for moral suasion, his fights against slavery and racism through the columns of his short-lived paper, the Pittsburgh Mystery, combined with his activities and accomplishments as coeditor and roving lecturer for the North Star, earned for him the reputation of a racial essentialist. He became the epitome of black pride and capabilities. This reputation grew stronger in the mid-nineteenth century when he