Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

69 THE MORAL AND SOCIAL ASPECT OF AFRICA

Martin Robinson Delany

In 1859 Martin R. Delany traveled in Africa for about a year, seeking places to which black Americans might emigrate. He signed treaties with eight kings of Abeokuta for grants of land to establish colonies in the Yoruba area. From Africa, Delany went on to London and was invited to attend the International Statistical Congress in July 1860. The entire diplomatic corps of the United States, including the American ambassador, George Mifflin Dallas, a former vice president of the United States, was present when Lord Brougham, the eighty-two- year-old British legal reformer and antislavery advocate, said to the American ambassador: "I hope our friend Mr. Dallas will forgive me reminding him that there is a Negro present, a member of the Congress." Since the others had responded to Lord Brougham's introduction, Delany decided to say a few words: "I pray your Royal Highness will allow me to thank his lordship, who is always a most unflinching friend of the Negro, and I assure your Royal Highness and his lordship that I am a man" ( London Times, July 25, 1860). This one-sentence speech provoked an international incident. With the exception of one delegate from Boston, who represented his state only, the entire American delegation walked out of the Congress in protest. For several days, the British and American press was filled with editorials and letters discussing the incident.

Before he left London, Delany, unperturbed by the controversy over his brief speech, read a paper on his researches in Africa before the Royal Geographical Society. He continued to lecture on Africa in England and Scotland for almost seven months and returned to the United States in 1861, six weeks after the Civil War had broken out. Although interest in emigration among blacks had subsided, Delany lectured on Africa in various northern cities during the next few years. None of these lectures were reported in the press except one, delivered in Chicago in the spring of 1863, and this was a detailed summary of Delany's remarks coupled with direct quotations from the lecture. However, because it is one of the few speeches of this black nationalist reported in detail and because it helped create a different image of Africa among Americans than was available at the time in books and magazines, it is important to include in this collection.

The summary of Delany's lecture is reprinted from the Liberator of May 1, 1863, which, in turn, reprinted it from the Chicago Tribune.

A LECTURE BY a gentleman of color is a sort of a "rare bird on the earth," and is very like a "black swan." Rare as the thing may be,

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