THE CRISES OF Delany’s postbellum career clearly reveal a personality different from the militant and radical personality of the relatively brief nationalist epoch (1852–1862), a phase that has unfortunately served as the defining focus and essence of Delany in historical and popular studies. Buried beneath the weight of instrumentalist weltanschauung, the “Delany” of the earlier moral suasionist epoch and that of the later conservative postbellum era simply languished in historical obscurity. The highlighting and exaltation of the emigrationist phase of Delany’s career have resulted in overamplification of the nationalist and PanAfricanist dimensions of his life and struggle to the neglect of other, more critical phases that provide counterpoints and balance and enable an informed understanding of the complexities and paradoxes of his personality and career.
More than three decades after it was made, the call to move black American historiography beyond instrumentalism has yet to affect Delany. Over the last two decades, several micro- and macrobiographical studies have surfaced, built upon commentaries on, and amplifications of, his militant nationalism. Several of these studies fall more appropriately under the rubric of “popular history” and are premised on the conviction that such genre remain relevant, and critically needed, in the struggles for political, economic, and cultural survival in which black Americans are supposedly engaged. The dominance of instrumentalism continues to dictate a very narrow, skewed, and utilitarian conception of Delany. There is, therefore, a need to transcend this limitation and come to grips with the complexities of his life. Acknowledging the complexities neither undermines his image and reputation nor negates his historical relevance. On the contrary, it finally locates Delany within the