Without Regard to Race

Without Regard to Race: The Other Martin Robison Delany

Tunde Adeleke
Copyright Date: 2003
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvhgj
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Without Regard to Race
    Book Description:

    Before Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois lifted the banner for black liberation and independence, Martin Robison Delany (1812-1885) was at the forefront. He was the first black appointed as a combat major in the Union army during the Civil War. He was a pan-Africanist and a crusader for black freedom and equality in the nineteenth century. For the past three decades, however, this precursor has been regarded only as a militant black nationalist and "racial essentialist." To his discredit, his ideas, programs, and accomplishments have been maintained as models of uncompromising militancy. Classifying Delany solely for his militant nationalist rhetoric crystalizes him into a one-dimensional figure.

    This study of his life and thought, the first critical biography of the pivotal African American thinker written by a historian, challenges the distorting portrait and, arguing that Delany reflects the spectrum of the nineteenth-century black independence movement, makes a strong case for bringing him closer to the center position of the liberal mainstream.

    He displayed a far greater degree of optimism about the future of blacks in America than has been acknowledged, and he faced pragmatic socio-economic realities that made it possible for him to be flexible for compromise. Focusing on neglected phases in his intellectual life, this book reveals Delany as a personality who was neither uncompromisingly militant nor dogmatically conservative. It argues that his complex strategies for racial integration were much more focused on America than on separateness and nationalism.

    The extreme characterization of him that has been prominent in the contemporary mind reflects ideologies of scholars who came of age during the civil rights era, the period that initially inspired great interest in his life.

    This new look at him paints a portrait of the "other Delany," a thinker able to reach across racial boundaries to offer compromise and dialogue.

    Tunde Adeleke, director of African American studies at the University of Montana, Missoula, is the author ofUnAfrican Americans: Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Missionand editor ofBooker T. Washington: Interpretive Essays.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-049-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xix-2)

    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...

  6. ONE Black Biography: From Instrumentalism to Functionalism
    (pp. 3-18)

    EARLY IN 1970, Theodore Draper published an article in theNew York Times Review of Bookstitled “The Father of American Black Nationalism.”¹ The theme of this article, which developed from a larger study, is a critical review of Martin R. Delany’s nationalist ideas and programs. Draper raised serious doubts about the depth of Delany’s commitment to black nationalism. Delany, according to Draper, saw himself first as an American and, like most black nationalists of his epoch, sought the realization of his American citizenship and identity much more than anything else. Draper characterized black nationalism as the consequence of a...

  7. TWO Delany Historiography
    (pp. 19-39)

    “I AM AN invisible man ... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me,” laments the hero in Ralph Ellison’s epic novelInvisible Man.¹ This characterization aptly captures the...

  8. THREE First Integrationist Phase: Moral Suasion, 1830–1849
    (pp. 40-69)

    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...

  9. FOUR Second Integrationist Phase: 1863–1874
    (pp. 70-134)

    NOTHING IN DELANY’S perception of national politics in the 1850s had prepared him for the sectional conflict. His disillusionment began with the passage of the famous (or infamous) Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and would deepen as the decade wore on. He denounced America as irredeemably racist and offered blacks a new direction and future in an independent black nationality in Africa. In his estimation, the Fugitive Slave Law itself constituted incontrovertible proof of the depth of racism, and most significantly, it revealed the true character of America as a whites-only nation that would never accept blacks as integral members....

  10. FIVE Third Integrationist Phase: 1875–1877
    (pp. 135-160)

    EARLY IN 1875, like the biblical prodigal son, Delany returned to the Republican Party fold. There seemed to be no other option left if he wanted to remain politically active. Although the conservatives achieved some measure of success at the local levels in the recently concluded elections in South Carolina, Radical Republicans retained control of the state government. His dramatic return was by no means an admission of guilt but an extraordinary display of courage and conviction. Delany took his antiradical crusade right back to where it started. Rather than succumb and surrender in the face of overwhelming opposition and...

  11. SIX Final Years: 1878–1885
    (pp. 161-177)

    THE VICTORY OF the Democrats provided an opportunity to test the depth of their commitment to the “liberal” promises they made during the campaign. Would Delany’s optimism be vindicated, or would the Democrats renege on their promises? But first, the victory called for celebration. To South Carolina Democrats, the return to political power heralded the dawn of a “progressive age.” According to theNews and Courier, thanks to the rapid developments in railroads, white Carolinians celebrated this “new age” with mass vacation trips to the plains of the state and to Georgia.¹ The gaieties of the period, according to an...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 178-193)

    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 Pan-Africanist dimensions of his life and struggle to the...

  13. APPENDIX A “A Political Review”
    (pp. 194-209)
  14. APPENDIX B “Trial and Conviction”
    (pp. 210-227)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 228-255)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 256-268)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 269-274)