Martin Robinson Delany

The beginning of black nationalism

Early Life

Martin Robison Delany was born free on May 6, 1812, in Charles Town, Virginia, now within West Virginia. The youngest of five children, Delany was the son of a slave and grandson of a prince, according to family reports. All of his grandparents had been brought over from Africa to be slaves, but his father's father was by some accounts a village chieftain, and his mother's father a Mandingo prince. His mother, Pati, may have won her freedom because of this and she worked as a seamstress, while her husband Samuel was an enslaved carpenter.Trained as an assistant and a physician, he treated patients during the cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1854 in Pittsburgh, when many doctors and residents fled the city. He worked alongside Frederick Douglass to publish the North Star. Active in recruiting blacks for the United States Colored Troops, he was commissioned as a major, the first African-American field officer in the United States Army during the American Civil War.
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May 6, 1812
Charles Town, Virginia(present-day Charleston, West Virginia), U.S.
January 24, 1885 (aged 72)
Wilberforce, Ohio, U.S.

How he became a leader

In Pittsburgh, Delany became active in abolitionist activities, including leading the Vigilance Committee that helped relocate fugitive slaves, helping to form the Young Men's Literary and Moral Reform Society, and joining the integrated militia to help defend the black community against white mob attacks.

He traveled through the Midwest, down to New Orleans and over to Arkansas, including a visit to the Choctaw Nation, before settling down and marrying Catherine Richards, the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, in 1843. They went on to have 11 children.


Robinson once said: Every person should be originators of their own destiny.


Martin Robison Delany was an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer, and arguably the first proponent of black nationalism. He was one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School.